LAPS scrutinizes safety

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School: Another leak discovered but gas shut off

By Tris DeRoma

It seems like the construction crews working on the middle school renovation can’t catch a break.

Though they fixed a gas leak that was caused when a backhoe hit a gas line Monday, they recently discovered another new leak in an older line attached to the connection.

However, officials stress there was no gas in the line this time; the discovery came about when they were conducting a pressure test with air. Since Monday, the gas has been off.

“That’s all we know at this point,” said David Wharram, a spokesman for McCarthy, the contractor in charge of the Los Alamos Middle School renovation.

As of press time, Wharram couldn’t say anything else about the leak. “We will know nothing else until they dig up the line.” The school-owned line is approximately 1,000-feet long and parallels the middle school parking lot, running along an edge of the campus where the portable classrooms are now located.

The leak’s discovery was revealed in a closed-door meeting Wednesday between McCarthy and school officials.

Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt said he was glad the leak was found and that it was being taken care of.

“I appreciate the community being as patient as we test and retest pipes around the construction zone,” Schmidt said. “We are now closer to a path forward, because we now know where the path is.”

Schmidt and the Los Alamos School Board will meet tonight at the high school to discuss the issue further.

Since the accident, construction officials said they’ve already worked out a detailed plan so nothing like Monday’s accident happens again.

“We take safety very seriously and we will hold McCarthy very closely to the plans they are developing so we don’t have a repeat of this accident,” Schmidt said in an earlier statement.

Earlier Wednesday, school officials met with construction managers at LAMS to reassess their accident prevention and communication procedures.

School officials attending included Schmidt, Los Alamos Middle School Principal Rex Kilburn and LAPS Board Vice President Dawn Venhaus.

The meeting was in response to Monday’s accidental natural gas leak, when construction crews working on the school’s renovation inadvertently damaged a natural gas pipe that supplied the school’s cafeteria and some of the school’s hot water systems.

Ron Zucher, a project manager for McCarthy provided an update.

“We did a safety stand-down yesterday to discuss what’s happened in the past few days so that we learn from our lesson and we don’t keep repeating the same problem.”

He also said they added a new procedure when any of McCarthy’s subcontractors are about to do any work on the site that may involve digging where there could be gas or electrical lines.

“The subcontractor has to do a plan, then that subcontractor has do a walk-through with McCarthy and McCarthy has to bless it before the subcontractor can go through with that plan,” Zucher said.