The principal of Greenback School in Loudon County said a second gas leak in as many days Wednesday only underscores the need for a new building to replace the aging schoolhouse.
Approximately 115 students were evacuated from their classrooms to the school’s gym for about an hour Wednesday after the smell of gas was reported around 9:30 a.m.
Greenback firefighters discovered a “very small gas leak,” from a water heater in a nearby courtyard, according to Principal Joey Breedlove.
Students among seven classrooms adjacent to the courtyard were evacuated while the gas was cut off and the leak was repaired.
Mechanics had been called to repair a leak in the same water heater the day before, Breedlove said.
The principal blamed the ongoing problems on a contractor who was previously hired to convert the school from propane to natural gas.
“The county is contracting the services of an independent mechanical engineer to check every pipe, heater and valve in the school for leaks or repair issues,” Breedlove wrote in a letter sent home to parents Wednesday. “Chief (Ronnie) Lett of the Greenback Fire Department has been contracted by the county to check all areas of the school 2-3 times per day for leaks and air quality.
“I want to reassure you that although our facility is not perfect we are doing everything in our power to ensure your child’s safety.”
The school serves some 700 students in grades pre-K through 12. Its oldest section was built in 1939, the principal said.
Breedlove’s letter urged parents to lobby their elected officials to give more priority to building a new school.
“This is the only way to make your voice known and let them know that your support depends on what they will do for our new school,” the letter states.
Loudon County commissioners approved funding for a school building program for several projects Monday night, although it stopped short of committing funds for construction.
Commissioner Bob Franke of Greenback said the project has been a priority for him since he was first elected seven years ago, and that low interest rates and building costs in the current economy make it as good a time as any to move forward.
“Over the years it’s been kind of a bailing wire and bubble gum approach,” Franke said of ongoing safety issues at Greenback School. “We can’t do that anymore — we’ve got to do it right. … I think we’re moving forward now, after many years. I hope we can just continue that.”