KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Hardin Valley Academy dismissed early Thursday as a precaution after a gas valve at the school was left running overnight.
According to Knox County Schools, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office led an investigation and discovered that “a contract custodian had intentionally turned on and left the gas valve running in the HVA classroom.”
The contract custodian, identified as 23-year-old Jay Kostermans, was taken into custody and charged with felony reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon.
According to court records, investigators believe he turned on two natural gas valves in a chemistry lab prior to leaving for the evening out of anger over a dispute with a family member.
Hardin Valley Academy was evacuated and dismissed at 1 p.m. after a KCS spokesperson said a gas valve was left running in one of the science labs overnight, resulting in a strong smell in the hallways.
The district received information suggesting that there may have been an additional safety risk associated with the situation and took precautionary measures to evacuate and dismiss school early.
“A gas valve was left running in one of the science labs overnight resulting in a strong smell in the hallways. The air was tested and no trace of gas was detected. However, as a precaution, due to the lingering odor and disruption to the learning environment, Hardin Valley Academy is in the process of evacuating the building and will dismiss early this afternoon at 1 p.m.”Knox County Schools spokesperson
Classes continued as normal for most of the day with fans running and doors open in an effort to ventilate the area. Two classes were relocated to the library.
“Having a safe school environment is my number one priority to ensure effective teaching and learning,” Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk said. “I am thankful for the strong partnership that we have with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies and grateful to the KCS staff for their immediate actions to keep students, staff, and families safe.”
“The safety of our children and faculty in Knox County is paramount. Today, we had a positive outcome for everyone; however, it was a dangerous situation. I’m grateful there were no injuries and thankful we have a good working relationship with Knox County Schools,” Sheriff Tom Spangler said. “I commend the actions of our Patrolman assigned to HVA and our Detectives for their expeditious efforts in identifying the suspect and ensuring the safety of everyone at HVA. Let me be clear, now more than ever before, after this week’s events in Nashville, all of us at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and KCS take any threat seriously and will not tolerate endangering our children, the faculty, and the administration. The investigation is active and will be led by KCSO’s Major Crimes Unit.”
KCS said Kostermans was terminated by his employer, which is listed as Duncan and Sons Building Maintenance in court records. The business was contracted by the school district earlier this year to address a custodial staffing shortage at several schools.
Kostermans’ bond has been set on April 3 for $250,000, according to Assistant District Attorney Sean McDermott. If he makes the bond, he would be placed on house arrest.
The preliminary hearing has been set for April 27.