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Gas smell prompts evacuation of school

A gas smell at Brookhaven Elementary School prompted an evacuation of students to the Mississippi School of the Arts campus early Wednesday morning, though students were set to return in the afternoon.

     Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya confirmed a gas smell was reported in the main BES building early Wednesday and a subsequent inspection determined three valves needed to be replaced.

     About 430 students are enrolled at BES, and approximately 310 were evacuated to Lampton Auditorium on the MSA campus.

     However, Karmacharya said the valve replacement would only take about an hour and all students would return to campus after lunch.

     About 120 students, including some third- and fourth-graders and special education students, remained at the BES annex building, which isn’t connected to the main BES building

     Breakfast was provided to students as they loaded up into buses from the BES annex and lunch plans were in place, Karmacharya said.

     Though administrators had initially prepped for an afternoon of non-traditional instruction, they greeted the news of a quick remedy.

     “We’ll have a fairly normal afternoon,” Karmacharya said.

     A custodian discovered the gas smell about 7 a.m. Wednesday. The smell was predominant near the building’s cafeteria, said BES Principal Janee Harrison.

     Karmacharya said Harrison alerted her to the problem sometime before 8 a.m.

     The building’s gas was turned off and Centerpoint Energy workers inspected the BES building to determine the source and cause of the smell, ultimately identifying three valves as being at fault.

     Two of those valves were located in the cafeteria’s kitchen, with the third valve elsewhere in the building, Karmacharya said. The superintendent said she didn’t know whether the age of the valves was an issue, but pointed out that BES is an old building.

     Karmacharya praised the efforts of all involved in the response to the emergency.

     “The coordinated efforts of everybody made such a huge difference,” Karmacharya said. “No one panicked. I’m real proud of what we did.”