Second gas scare at local elementary sparks concern among parents

Local News
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A local mother believes her two sons deserve better out of their elementary school. Two recent gas-related incidents at their school prompted Angel Bowman to give us a call.

“They should not have learning interrupted because there’s fog, you know, carbon monoxide in their halls. Kids should not have to have their learning experience interrupted because of a potential gas leak today or tomorrow,” she said. 

She has a 2nd grader and a 3rd grader at Lonsdale Elementary. She also has a two-year-old, Trinity, who she hopes can follow her three brothers’ footsteps into Lonsdale but isn’t sure of that at the moment. 

Tuesday morning, she received a phone message from the school’s principal which said, in part:

 This is Mr. Dill, principal at Lonsdale Elementary School. This morning around 6 a.m. there was a minor gas leak in our back kitchen area. No students, parents or teachers were in the building.”

Bowman said she’s thankful for the expedient call and for the option to pick her kids up from school.

Now she’s demanding answers. 

She doesn’t take issue with Lonsdale’s administration or staff. She considers the bulk of them friends, some even family.

Her issue is with distirct leaders, who she feels need to do more for her community school. 

Bowman’s pride in the Lonsdale community and Lonsdale Elementary goes back to 2002 when her now 23-year-old was entering the 1st grade. 

Bowman says she’s at their school three to four times a week, to offer up volunteer help whether it be reading to students or showing teacher appreciation by bringing food. She feels obligated to lend a hand because she says she depends so heavily on her sons’ school to take good care of them. She even called Lonsdale “an extension of the family.” 

She said she prays the school is safe and sound for her children to attend. She wants one of two things: the district to put money into major renovations at Lonsdale or into new construction or confirmation the school she sends her two boys to every day is safe. 

After a carbon monoxide release in November, Bowman explained, extreme panic and fear lingered in her for weeks. She kept going through “what ifs” in her mind of what could happen to the 84 school building next.

Then, Knoxville firefighters found CO levels as high as 160 parts per million (ppm)  on the first floor. The normal range is 50 or less. 

Russ Oaks, Chief Operating Officer for Knox County Schools, said Tuesday both events have nothing to do with Lonsdale Elementary’s age and called it a safe school.

“There are buildings all over this country that are hundreds of years old and used every day. The age of a building and how safe it is and functional it is for you comes down to how you maintain it and how you repair it,” he said.

He said Lonsdale is maintained at the same level as other Knox County Schools. 

Neither the CO release or the natural gas event is related or in any way connected to the longevity of the building, according to Oaks. 

The November 2018 carbon monoxide even, Oaks said, is an anomaly. The boiler at the school recently passed an inspection. 

Oaks said Tuesday’s leak was very minor and involved a coupling connecting a kitchen oven to a natural gas line. 

The incident did strike a chord with school leaders, though. Oaks said they retrofitted a CO detector and alarms in the boiler room at Lonsdale, he also says there is a district-wide program to retrofit all facilities with gas-fired equipment with co-detection, although he said it isn’t required by any code. 

On Lonsdale’s future, Oaks said, the district spoke with the Lonsdale community a year to a year and a half ago and many members expressed concerns about the building.

There, he said, they agreed to do an analysis on Lonsdale to see if it was meeting education needs. He says the schools future will be a part of the capital discussion with the Board of Education. 

Lonsdale, the 15th oldest building owned by Knox County Schools, is one of five schools that hasn’t seen a renovation or addition since the 1950s. 

It’s tricky because Oaks said when you’re looking at upgrading a building, or adding onto one, a project could go over the value of the building. Because district leaders would have to address any grandfathered code requirements, it’s possible those projects could cost more than building a new school. 

A new school would be good news for Bowman, who said:

“I feel like Lonsdale has been left out, Lonsdale has been forgotten, Lonsdale is not on anybody’s radar.”

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