Natural gas leaks, bus route problems spark concerns
Natural gas leaks that twice forced the evacuation of Charles City Elementary School last week and some children who ride buses arriving home late generated concern on the part of parents and school officials during Tuesday’s Charles City School Board meeting.
That the leaks occurred the same week as a devastating natural gas line explosion in a San Francisco, Calif. suburb apparently heightened parents’ fears.
The elementary school had to be evacuated and children sent home on Sept. 14 after cafeteria workers complained of a gas odor emanating from the kitchen area. A leaking valve behind a deep fryer turned out to be the culprit, schools’ administrative services director Melvin Robertson reported at Tuesday’s meeting.
Two days later, the odor surfaced again in the cafeteria and was traced to a malfunctioning regulator on a steamer, Robertson said.
Technicians called in on Sept. 14 shut off the gas system in order to make repairs. Tests conducted on all underground pipelines that day determined there were no other leaks, Robertson said.
The steamer was cut off and its manufacturer contacted for repair work. No problems have erupted since, he added.
But board member Preston Adkins questioned school officials’ response and preparations in the event of another leak.
“I’m concerned that we get the kids off premises right then and dial 911,” he said to applause from several in the audience. “Any future gas leaks, I hope our staff will be instructed to get kids off premises immediately.”
Robertson assured Adkins that staff reacted promptly and efficiently. The school system’s instant alert notified parents about the school closing on Sept. 14, he said. Responding to the Sept. 16 leak, staff had children transported to the high school where the kids were fed lunch before returning, he added.
Board member Royce Paige said more equipment breakdowns are to be expected as school facilities age, and he lamented there may not be money available for repairs due to ongoing budget woes. Superintendent Janet Crawley said the steamer in question is 17 years old and has undergone repairs on several occasions.
Parents, meanwhile, took issue with the schools’ new bus routes, complaining about the length of time it takes some children to arrive home in the afternoon. One parent presented a petition with 299 signatures of county residents opposed to the route system.
Robertson, who oversees schools’ transportation department, admitted that some children had been arriving home close to 6 p.m., but insisted the situation is improving.
“I think we have it down now so that kids can get home within an hour,” he said.
In other matters, scheduling a meeting with Board of Supervisors representatives to discuss current and future budgets could take place at a School Board work session on Oct. 5.
At their Sept. 8 work session, supervisors agreed to meet with school officials, but when Crawley announced Tuesday that county administrator Jack Miniclier had forwarded a joint meeting agenda containing seven items, some School Board members expressed dismay.
“I want to see that agenda, and I’d like to put on some items that are important to schools,” board chairman Roy Campbell said.
“I’ve been to 10 of these meetings in the past 16 years and we haven’t gotten anywhere,” Paige chimed in, adding that school issues must be included and a meeting date set after Daryl Robertson, who has been appointed to fill the District 3 vacancy, can provide input.