It will cost more than $25,000 to replace a dust-collector unit that caught fire last month and forced the evacuation of Pickerington High School North.

It will cost more than $25,000 to replace a dust collector unit that caught fire last month and forced the evacuation of Pickerington High School North.

The Pickerington Board of Education voted unanimously Feb. 27 to waive competitive bidding for the purchase of a new dust collector unit at the high school.

The move, board members said, is needed to expedite the replacement of the unit, which pulls sawdust and other airborne materials generated in a wood shop class at North and collects them outside the classroom.

The Feb. 13 fire started, school officials said, after a spark caused by a student striking a nail in the classroom was sucked into the unit and ignited collected sawdust.

"It will probably be between $35,000 and $40,000 to replace," PLSD business manager Vince Utterback said. "We're waiting to see what the lead time is to get the unit that matches with the system at North."

Although competitive bidding won't occur, Utterback said the district will get estimates from several companies before purchasing a replacement unit. He said the cost of the new equipment is expected to be covered by the district's insurer.

"We're working with our insurance company to look at a couple different vendors," he said. "Our insurance company will require us to look at multiple vendors because they're paying for it."

Although no one was hurt in the Feb. 13 fire, it required the entire high school to be evacuated. The blaze was put out and classes resumed about 20 minutes later.

Utterback said although the fire was unfortunate, the old dust collector performed correctly.

"Nothing will ever avoid that kind of stuff, but the dust collector kept that fire from happening inside the building," he said.

While the district seeks new equipment, Utterback said, portable dust collectors will be used as needed in the wood shop class. He said the loss of the old unit has forced some changes in the class because students haven't been able to work on projects which yield large amounts of sawdust.

In other school board news, Jeffrey Burns, a parent of students at Sycamore Creek Elementary, raised questions as to why the board wasn't more forthright with information regarding the school's former principal, Ron Widman.

Widman, in his first year as principal at Sycamore Creek Elementary, was placed on paid leave on Dec. 9, 2011 amid allegations he sexually harassed a female teacher at the school.

At their Feb. 13 meeting, board members voted unanimously to accept Widman's resignation, effective July 31, as opposed to allowing him to work through the remainder of his employment contract, which would have kept him in the district through the 2012-13 school year.

Widman has since been reassigned to the PLSD district office, but Burns said he was disappointed the board didn't share more information about what Widman had done or the status of his employment when Burns asked them about the matter at the Feb. 13 meeting.

Instead, Bursn said, he had to learn details through media reports.

"When I ask a question, I'm asking because my children go to Sycamore Creek Elementary," he said. "This does raise a specter of suspicion with you people because an answer that was important to us goes unanswered.

"It just seems like you're hiding something from us."

Board President Lori Sanders said the board didn't address the question because an official statement wasn't written until after the meeting.

"Those statements are generated from our communications department in conjunction with our legal counsel," she said.