Propane detectors installed in middle school, district hopes to recover monetary, instructional minute losses
After a week of minimum days at Tahoe Truckee High School, Sierra Mountain Middle School students returned to their own classrooms Feb. 10. Middle school students were dismissed Jan. 30 and 31 after propane was detected behind modulars in the wake of an estimated 22,000-gallon AmeriGas propane leak.
The fire department installed two permanent propane detectors – costing $5,000 each – in the two end modulars at the school, in addition to seven plug-in alarms, estimated to cost hundreds of dollars each.
“[The censors] gave us a better feeling about going back to the site,” said Christopher Cooper, director of risk management, workers’ compensation, safety and maintenance for Tahoe Truckee Unified.
The detectors are telemetry units, which will send signals out to the hazardous materials truck on Donner Pass Road in the event of a propane leak.
“Whenever a signal goes off, they’ll know right away,” he said. “Then the haz mat people will be on a radio phone with a site administrator.”
In their daily readings around the middle school, the fire department has not detected any traces of propane, Cooper said.
“They’ve even been monitoring the areas where students would be evacuated,” he added.
The costs associated with the leak have also been a concern for a district in an already precarious budget situation.
District officials have estimated the gas leak cost them roughly $77,000, Cooper said.
“The number may come down from there, depending on whether or not we can get waivers for the two days school that were cancelled. This is a worst-case-scenario number,” he added.
Some district officials have estimated up to a $30,000 loss from average daily attendance (ADA) funding alone. However, several students were out with the flu, so administrators must account for those individual cases.
“ADA is going to be one of our bigger numbers,” Cooper said.
Although the gas leak has been a relatively pricey endeavor for the district – with items like transportation, administrative time, ADA losses, extra supervision and food services racking up the numbers – Cooper said he believes the Tahoe Truckee Unified will recover all leak-related expenditures from AmeriGas’ insurance company, Kemper.
“These are actual costs. Everything in that total we have paperwork for,” Cooper said.
In addition, the high school and middle school lost instructional minutes during the week of minimum days, but principals at both sites said they don’t think they’ll drop below state-required minimums.
Principal Don Beno said his middle school runs a few minutes more than the state requirements – which are 54,000 instructional minutes over 180 days. Beno said he also plans changing several of the scheduled minimum days to full days for the rest of the school year.
“The two days we missed will probably be waived by the state,” he added.
At the high school level, schools are required by the state to have 64,800 instructional minutes over 180 days.
“We lost some instructional minutes,” said Truckee High Principal Mike Finney, “but we go over state requirements.”
The high school schedules its school year for more than 66,000 instructional minutes.
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