Gas line ruptured; school evacuated

LaCROFT — Students were evacuated from LaCroft Elementary School Thursday morning after repairs on a nearby street resulted in a ruptured gas line, but officials said the evacuation went smoothly.

Liverpool Township road workers were preparing Densmore Avenue for chip and seal shortly before 11 a.m. when a backhoe accidentally nicked a gas line, rupturing it.

The street runs alongside the LaCroft Fire Station to the school, and the gas line feeds the school, according to township Trustee Mike Bahen, who is also a firefighter for the township. Bahen and other firefighters just happened to be at the station on standby for the Dixonville station, which had responded to a downed power line, when they heard the road foreman yell after the line ruptured, Bahen said. Gas fumes were headed toward the school and the decision was made to evacuate the building as a precaution, Bahen said, saying, “I was very impressed with the school and its reaction. Everything went like clockwork.”

According to district Superintendent Randy Taylor, police Chief Jayson Jackson asked them to evacuate the building, and transportation supervisor Mary Lee Ludwig was called. She, assisted by bus mechanic Jack Croxall, immediately arranged for drivers to bring buses to the elementary school to transport the 450-470 students to the high school.

Police Chief Jackson commended the drivers for responding so quickly and he helped direct traffic while Detective Jared Kinemond assisted with loading the students onto the buses. Afterward Kinemond said, “The kids were the best behaved I’ve ever seen.”

Tim Fultz, district HVAC supervisor, said he shut off all fans and other accessories to prevent the gas fumes from entering the building and to eliminate any threat, saying, “It worked out fine. They were never in any danger. It went quite orderly.”

Taylor sent out an all-call message, letting parents know their children were being taken to the high school, where they could either be picked up remain until the end of the school day. They were fed lunch at North Elementary School, located next door to the high school, and then settled in and treated to a movie, Taylor said, saying some children actually cried upon being picked up by their parents because they wanted to see the movie.

A table was set up in the lobby of the high school where parents were checked in with school laptops to make sure the right students went home with the right parents.

Taylor said the entire process had “gone pretty well,” saying, “I can’t say enough about our staff.”

The gas line was quickly repaired, with Columbia Gas on the scene.