Snow causes gas leak at Gunnison School

No one injured

Falling snow from an upper roof of the Gunnison Community School broke a gas line sometime early Friday morning, March 14. According to Gunnison fire marshal Dennis Spritzer, neighbors smelled a strong odor of gas and reported the leak at 7:20 a.m., prompting the mobilization of Gunnison emergency personnel. The school was unoccupied at the time because of spring break.



Spritzer said by the time fire personnel arrived, the two-inch gas main had been blowing gas for three hours. “That’s a lot of gas,” he said.
According to Spritzer, a large amount of gas penetrated the building and tests conducted by the fire department and Atmos Energy indicated concentrations were near ignition levels.
Spritzer said that the presence of people would have made ignition more likely. “We were very fortunate,” he said.
According to Spritzer, the fire department and the gas company had an extremely difficult time stemming the leak because the gas pipe was sheared below the shut-off valve. “We spent five hours on that call,” he said.
Superintendent Jon Nelson told the Gunnison RE1J School District school board at their regular meeting on March 17 that the snow slid off the upper roof and cascaded through a lower shed roof before snapping the two-inch diameter gas main.
He was relieved nothing worse happened. “I think everything went as smoothly as it could, given the severity of the situation,” Nelson said.
Nelson told the Gunnison RE1J that this was the second time the pipe had been broken by falling snow. He said the shed roof over the pipe was constructed specifically to keep snow off the pipe, but was unable to withstand the impact of the falling snow.
According to Nelson, a new roof protecting the pipe would be constructed out of steel to withstand large snowfalls.
School Board agrees to put Gunnison Valley School on “accreditation watch”
The Gunnison RE1J school board moved to put the Gunnison Valley School on “accreditation watch” because the school was unable to meet the terms of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law due to its substandard graduation rates. The Gunnison Valley School provides an alternative learning environment for high school students who don’t fit into the traditional school setting.
The Gunnison Valley School’s graduation rate was 55.6 percent. “No Child Left Behind” mandates a graduation level of 57.4 percent.
Gunnison RE1J School District director of curriculum and assessment Chris Purkiss said the district is still engaged in “deep strategic planning” to figure out a way to bring the school into compliance with the federal law.
According to Purkiss, the school board and district administrators spent considerable time deliberating alternative school environments during last year’s charter school discussions, so they are well prepared to implement a strategic planning process for the Gunnison Valley School. “This is really an opportune time for us to put forward a well thought out plan,” Purkiss told the board.
School board president M.J. Vosburg said such planning was necessary and therefore the school board could not accredit the school at this time. “I was disappointed that we need to take this step but I think it’s the right step to take,” she said.
In an interview after the meeting, Purkiss said by putting the Gunnison Valley School on accreditation watch, district administrators would have additional time to plan a strategy to improve the school’s graduation rates and overall performance.
Bond measure to improve district facilities moves forward
The next step to placing a bond issue before voters for school district facility upgrades will be an effort to engage the support of prominent community members, School board president M.J. Vosburg told fellow board members.
“The important thing to realize is what the first steps are that the district will be taking to start to build the case for the bond,” she said. Vosburg said an executive summary of needed upgrades will be sent to a list of “key influencers.”
After engaging prominent community members, Vosburg said the district will conduct two surveys of the district electorate. The surveys—one to be conducted by phone targeting the district’s specific demographic groups and the other to mailed to all district voters—will determine whether there is support for the bond issue, and if so, how much district voters are willing to pay.
“To confirm general numbers, the phone survey will be one of the very first things that happens,” said Vosburg.
Vosburg said surveys are scheduled to take place in May in preparation for the November election.

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