Gas leak forces closure of Fruitvale Elementary School

Gas leak forces closure of Fruitvale Elementary School

This morning was kicked off with some angst and upset for Fruitvale Elementary School staff, administration, students and parents after a problem with the school's natural gas regulators forced the closure of the school.

School District 20 Superintendent Bill Ford said school administration had been in contact with Fortis over the issue for the past couple of weeks, as a gas odour would intermittently be noticeable throughout the school.

“The part was ordered two weeks ago,” Ford said. “I was told it wasn't constant – the odour would waft through the building and dissipate. This morning, however, it was quite heavy and quite noxious.”

Principal Teresa Berdusco, in consultation with Ford, made the decision to close the school, but contacting parents became challenging, as the school's 350 students had already begun to arrive.

“My number-one priority was phoning parents directly and making sure everyone had a plan n place,” she said, adding this is the first incident of its kind she has experienced in her 15-year career.

“What started happening is, parents started intercepting students walking to school and telling them to go home, as the school was closed – before they had checked in with their teachers,” she said.

The end result was some children arriving back at home, and that being the first indication for their parents that something was amiss.

Notification on the SD 20 website wasn't posted until after 10 a.m., and a mass email to parents wasn't sent out until more than two hours after the school was supposed to open.

Berdusco said the priority was for staff to reach parents directly, to ensure no child was left without a safe place to go.

“I was proud of everyone – I thought it ran very smoothly,” she said during a telephone interview at 10:40 a.m. “We have 350 direct confirmations at this point.”

Both Ford and Berdusco acknowledged that, as this sort of occurrence is very rare, there is a learning curve involved, and the SD 20 website apologized for the delay in posting the closure.

“Fortis has said they can fix the problem today, and I'm confident the school will be open tomorrow,” Berdusco said. “When I have confirmation from Fortis that it is fixed, I'll send out another mass email letting parents know.”

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