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Gas Lines - Leak Forces School Closure
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Temperatures this week that are forecast to be slightly above normal will be welcome at Escalon High School, as the district has had to shut off its gas service to the bulk of the buildings on campus.

A gas leak detected on Thursday prompted closure of the school on Friday, as crews moved in to dig up and test the lines. District Superintendent Ron Costa said the system, which is aging, has been found to have more than one leak. There is no danger for staff and students to be on campus, as the gas has been shut off in that system, and the school board was slated to meet in a special emergency session on Tuesday night, Jan. 24, to approve contracting for services to repair the gas lines.

Portable electric heaters have been brought in to the affected classrooms on campus so students can be in class.

"There was a gas smell," Costa said of school officials detecting the problem on Thursday. "We first checked our above ground lines and there were no leaks so we called PG&E in."

Those crews detected gas in one spot, said Costa. That leak was capped but it was soon discovered that there were other leaks in the system. The decision was made then to cancel classes on Friday. Local contractor C.T. Brayton had crews on the scene Friday and over the weekend working on pinning down the problem.

"Our (gas) delivery system underground between the buildings is 50-plus years old," Costa explained. "Whenever we found a leak and fixed it, two more popped up. The system is outdated."

The short term fix will be to put in new piping from building to building, with the board meeting in emergency session to authorize that work.

"In the interim, we're using electric heaters," Costa said.

A few buildings on the campus are on a new gas delivery system and are not affected. The Performing Arts Center/cafeteria/library wing is new and that system also is connected to the old gym. Portable classrooms and the science wing are already on electric heat. Other classrooms and the main office are using the portable heaters. Teachers and staff were on site Friday to put in a full workday, though the students got an unexpected day off.

Costa said when they knew it wasn't going to be a quick or easy fix, they mobilized over the weekend and purchased several dozen portable heaters.

"Is it the best solution? No," Costa said. "Are the kids safe? Yes."

And, he said, many showed up to school on Monday with some extra warm clothing, prepared for the slightly lower in-class temperatures.

Costa also said Escalon is not the first district in the area to have this type of problem, with others schools from Turlock to Beyer to Riverbank all having to replace all or portions of their gas delivery systems because of aged pipes.

With board approval to move on the repair project expected Tuesday night, Costa said he would be making contact with some contractors today, Wednesday, to get the repair project in motion.

"Until then, we're trying to keep the rooms as comfortable as we can," he said.