Greenback School closed through Friday

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The Loudon County School Board voted unanimously to close Greenback School indefinitely until the school can be inspected for gas leaks. In an emergency session called in the middle of a workshop Monday night, the board decided the potential danger was too great to allow students to continue to occupy the building until a complete inspections was completed. The school was evacuated twice last week when the smell of gas was detected. 

Greenback School is set to be closed through Friday, according to the director's office. County Purchasing Agent Leo Bradshaw outlined the series of events last week when people at the school reported smelling gas. Bradshaw said that after inspections and a certain amount of "panic" about the possibility of a gas leak, "no actual leak was detected"  but he recommended a "third party" inspect the gas lines to determine if there is a problem. 

After a long discussion about whether or not there had been gas leaks, board member Gary Ubben said the important thing is that there is "a perception of a safety problem" and it was important to reassure parents their children are safe at Greenback School. He alluded to the ongoing debate about whether or not to build a new school in Greenback but said regardless of the building debate such a serious problem as potential gas leaks needs to be fixed. 

Board Chairman Scott Newman referred the question of whether or not there had been actual gas leaks to Ron Jones, Tennessee fire marshal, who was in the audience. "Yes there were gas leaks," Jones told the board adding that he had been at the school more than an hour after the initial reports and there was still gas present. 

Board member Bill Marcus said the board should immediately close Greenback School until the students' safety could be ensured. "I'm not for letting kids go there one more day," Marcus told the board.  The board quickly moved to an emergency called meeting with Greenback School Board representative Lisa Russell suggesting the board close the school the next day with "no time limit" until the safety issues could be resolved. Marcus moved to do just that with Russell seconding the motion. 

Greenback Principal Joey Breedlove was in the audience when he was asked if he could effect the school's closure overnight. "I can do whatever you tell me to do," Breedlove replied and asked how long he could expect the school to be closed.  Bradshaw estimated it would take "two or three" days on site for the inspections to be complete and the rest would depend on what was found. The board then voted with all in favor of the closure, which will forbid any activity on campus. "Thanks to all of you for that," Russell said.

Marcus concluded that the important thing was not having to "ask a parent to forgive me because their kid went to school and got hurt. "Tuesday afternoon a group of officials arrived at Greenback School to tackle the problem of gas leaks. The county school board closed the school indefinitely due to a series of gas leaks that have forced the school to be evacuated several times in recent weeks. 

Bradshaw, Russell, Breedlove, Loudon County Director of Schools Wayne Honeycutt, Assistant Director Jason Vance, Greenback Mayor Tom Peeler, Greenback Fire Chief Ronnie Lett, mechanical engineer Greg Farmer, State Fire Marshal Mark Boyd, Deputy State Fire Marshal Ron Jones and others came to the school to discuss a game plan for solving the problem of the leaks. 

Bradshaw lead the meeting, first asking the fire marshal what he is looking for in the process. Boyd said he wants to know what is causing the leaks and when the school will be safe. Bradshaw said the best idea would be to have gas detectors tied to the schools fire alarm system. When working out how many senors would be needed, Lett estimated there should be one in every classroom. 

Bradshaw asked Farmer, who works for the engineering firm Hodge Associates, if he had any idea "how much this will cost and how quickly we can get this done." Farmer said it was his first time at the school and he "couldn't commit to any time frame" until he knew more. He estimated it would take a week for the entire school to be looked over then at least another week before the final report could be prepared. Bradshaw asked if Framer's firm could avail themselves of more resources and possibly "speed that up." Framer said it was possible. 

Bradshaw told him it was important for the school to be opened within a week. "I don't know what kind of tiger we have by the tail," Farmer said adding it would depend on how much of the natural gas piping is concealed and hard to access. He estimated that 80 percent of the gas lines are exposed and 20 percent are concealed. 

Farmer then questioned the group about the school's recent conversion from propane to natural gas noting that the same pipes are being used, adding that reusing the pipes is usually a problem.  Lett noted his department uses two devices to check for gas leaks one a leak detector and the other a device that measures PPM (parts per million) of gas in the air. Lett said the scale on the device is 1-10 with 10 denoting the air is explosive. He said people react when there is a "smell or the meter goes up" but thus far it had never reached a 10. He also said since the pipes being used are 30 years old he feared rust might be breaking loose in the pipes and clogging the valves. "I'm not sold it's a pipe problem," Farmer said noting the gas is under very little pressure in the pipes. He also said he would like to see a section of pipe, which Bradshaw said could be arranged.

The inspection of Greenback School should continue for at least two days until the engineers and fire marshals can determine what could be causing the gas leaks and how they can be fixed. The school will remain closed until fire officials are satisfied the building is safe.

WATE 6 News Includes two videos

Greenback School shut until gas leaks are repaired

After nine leaks, Loudon sheriff looking into possibility of sabotage

By Hugh Willett

It’s more than Greenback School students, parents and teachers should have to deal with, according to Loudon County school board member Lisa Russell.

“Children can’t learn in this kind of environment,” she said.

Russell, who has three children in Greenback, said she hopes the board’s unanimous decision Monday to shut down the aging school until all gas lines and equipment have been checked will provide children and parents some relief.

About 650 children from kindergarten level through high school attend the school, the oldest parts of which date to 1939. The most recent gas leak scare occurred Jan. 6.

A study contracted by Loudon County in 2006 through the Public Building Authority of Knox County and Knoxville recommended Greenback be replaced. A proposed $47 million school building program for the county includes a new K-12 school in Greenback.

Competing ideas about funding the program and what to fund first have deadlocked the school board and county recently voted to fund architectural plans for the first phase of the program.

The school board maintenance committee was conducting a workshop Monday when a report from the state fire marshal about the danger at the school prompted an emergency meeting, Russell said. After discussion of the safety issues, board member Bill Marcus suggested shutting the school down indefinitely until the source of the gas leaks could be determined and repaired. Russell said she seconded the motion.

Under the request of the State Fire Marshal’s office, gas detectors will be installed in the school, according to Greenback Fire Chief Ronnie Lett. Until those detectors are installed, Lett himself is conducting checks for leaks several times a day using a handheld meter.

The director of schools, along with local fire officials, board members and administrators, met Tuesday afternoon with a representative of engineering consultant Hodge and Associates, according to Assistant Director of Schools Jason Vance.

All the gas lines and equipment are supposed to be tested and repaired if necessary, he said. Engineers are supposed to provide the county with a proposal today. It’s possible the work will be completed this weekend. “Hopefully, school will be back in session on Monday,” Vance said.

Also of concern is the possibility that someone may have deliberately caused several of the leaks.

The Loudon County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the possibility that someone deliberately loosened two gas line couplings in the school gymnasium in November, Vance said.

He said 27 cameras were installed in response to the possibility of sabotage.

A public meeting to discuss the school will be Tuesday at the Greenback gymnasium.


Greenback School closed for inspection of gas lines, equipment

By News Sentinel staff

LOUDON — The Loudon County school board voted in an emergency session Monday night to close the Greenback School indefinitely due to gas leaks.

According to school board member Van Shaver, the board held a long discussion on safety issues at Greenback. The board voted to close the school until all natural gas lines and equipment have been inspected and cleared of defects.

The meeting was held subsequent to a state Fire Marshal order to inspect all lines at the school, Shaver said.

“Estimates of the best-case scenario were that the school would only be closed for three days,” Shaver said. “Worst case is unknown.”

The Greenback School has been the subject of much debate at school board and county commission meetings for the past five years. The school has been closed repeatedly over that time due to gas leaks.

A study by the Knoxville Public Building Authority confirmed that the school; should be replaced. The board has voted to build a new school at Greenback but is waiting for funding from the county commission.