School Resource Officer Sammy Shumaker directs buses out of Armstrong Middle School. Buses transported children to Starkville High School's football field after a gas leak Tuesday afternoon. Photo by: Austin Frayser/Special to The Dispatch
Parents of Armstrong Middle School students line up to pick up their children at the ticket booth of Starkville High School football stadium Tuesday. Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District officials evacuated AMS Tuesday morning after Atmos officials found a gas leak outside the band hall and recommended the evacuation.
Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
May 15, 2019 10:35:58 AM
Armstrong Middle School students are back at school today after a Tuesday gas leak forced officials to evacuate the campus.
Atmos Energy workers identified a "small gas leak" outside the band hall Tuesday morning, and the evacuation of roughly 1,200 students, grades 6-8, began about 11:30 a.m., with buses taking them to the high school football field by a little after noon. There, a crowd of parents waited to check out and pick up their children, a process which lasted until about 3 p.m.
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District officials notified parents with social media posts and text messages once the evacuation started.
"We had a small leak at Armstrong Middle School," Superintendent Eddie Peasant said. "Atmos Energy was right there. After they evaluated the situation, they felt the level was high enough for an evacuation, just as a precautionary measure."
As the 1,200 students were bussed to the SHS stadium, parents were urged to check out students at the ticket office. Public Information Officer Nicole Thomas said most students were picked up, and bus students that were not picked up were taken home on their normal bus routes.
"We had six clerical staff working to get people checked out as quickly as possible," Peasant said. "One thing that was probably a bigger challenge was the organization of that area. We worked through that, and we did have some lines. I will say, 98 percent of (parents) were really patient."
Peasant updated the school board during its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night. He said after someone smelled gas at AMS, the maintenance department called the fire department and Atmos Energy to assess the situation. He added Atmos identified the problem.
"We had some old pipes, and that has given on the gas lines from the street to the building," Peasant said. "There were several issues on that line and that's going to have to be replaced."
David Baggett, assistant superintendent, told the board AMS was safe and cleared for class but the gas would remain turned off for the remainder of the school year. Construction to repair the pipes and gas lines will start at the end of the school year.
"It's not something that's going to be done overnight," Baggett said. "We just cut the gas off, we don't need it. ... We will be responsible for the main line into our building and where it meets the other lines."
Atmos Energy operations manager, Michelle Whittle, told The Dispatch once AMS officials indicated a gas leak, Atmos turned off the gas.
"It was a leak on their fuel line," Whittle said. "When that kind of thing happens, it's the responsibility of the owner to fix that. When we knew there was a leak, we turned them off. They did exactly what we want them to do. If someone smells gas, call us so we can shut it off. We want to make sure everyone is safe."
Without gas, the cafeteria will serve deli sandwiches, salads, assorted fruit, veggies and dip, according to an email Thomas sent parents Tuesday night.
Though an admittedly unfortunate situation, Peasant said he was pleased to see how students, faculty, staff and parents responded.
"We operated as efficiently as we could with these circumstances," Peasant said. "With students in school (at SHS) and 1,200 additional students, it was a little busy and hectic. We were really pleased with our teachers and students at Armstrong Middle School. The kids were really attentive and did what they were asked to do. They were cooperative and the teachers and staff just went to work."
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