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Project ReNeWal's domestic violence shelter floods when sprinkler system discharges due to high temperatures

COVINGTON -- The extreme heat of the past week has broken records around the country, and it is definitely the culprit in breaking a record set by the area's domestic violence shelter of never having shut its doors since its inception in 1995.

The fire sprinkler system, located in the attic of the Project ReNeWal shelter for victims of domestic abuse, malfunctioned and caused the flooding of the facility necessitating its closing.

"Eighteen thousand gallons of water went into the building. It looked like Niagra Falls when I got here last Sunday," said Director Vickie Stevenson, adding that a sprinkler head had gone off on Friday, damaging a portion of the building. It was repaired and the system was brought back up, but two days later, more widespread damage was done to the facility's two-story building.

"The sprinkler heads heated up to 165 degrees, so it was hotter than that in the attic," Stevenson said.

Fortunately, the center wasn't full at the time and the clients were placed at other shelters.

"We had three families, which was the lowest number we've had in two years," Stevenson said. "Thank goodness they were placed at other facilities, although some are as far as two hours away and that's put a hardship on them because they have to drive back and forth to work."

Stevenson said employees were still assessing what, if anything, can be salvaged. The damaged space included two client apartments, as well as office space and storage for donated clothing, toiletry items and household goods for clients. But even areas that weren't damaged directly are closed for safety reasons, Stevenson said.

Stevenson said anyone who needed their services and felt they were in immediate danger should call 911. If other assistance is needed, call the shelter's crisis line at 770-860-1666 and you will be referred to another shelter.

"There are two other shelters, one in Athens and one in McDonough, who are taking our calls right now because we have no phones here in the shelter area," Stevenson said. "Hopefully, we'll reopen our crisis line on the 16th (of July), depending on getting the system up and going."

Both Project ReNeWal and the building owners have insurance, but there is some question as to what will be covered and by whom.

"Right now the only thing the public can do to help us is financial donations because we know our insurance is not going to cover all our losses," Stevenson said. "The community always provides the support we need to help families in crisis. I have been working at Project ReNeWal for 10 years and the community has never let us down."

Project ReNeWal began serving clients in this area in 1995 and in 2011 provided more than 12,000 services to 1,827 individuals who found themselves living in violent homes. Project ReNeWal is the only organization serving individuals and families in domestic violence crisis situations in Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties. Stevenson said anyone wishing to make a donation to Project ReNeWal can go to www.projectrenewalga.com and make a donation through PayPal or send it to P.O. Box 205, Conyers, Ga. 30012. For more information, call her at 770-860-9770.