Gas line malfunction puts chill on schools

Students, teachers and school officials at six North Kitsap schools were welcomed back from winter break Monday with frigid temperatures — both outside and inside in the buildings.

Cascade Natural Gas, which supplies natural gas to Gordon, Poulsbo and Wolfle elementary schools, Kingston and Poulsbo junior high schools and North Kitsap High School, experienced a system failure on one of its gas lines at a transfer meter in Chico Jan. 4.

As a result, temperatures in the heat-less schools plummeted into the 30s and 40s overnight, until individual boilers at the six schools were manually switched on when North Kitsap School District maintenance crews arrived at work.

“We didn’t come in until 6 a.m. Monday,” said Dave Dumpert, NKSD Director of Maintenance and Operations. “So we were cold for a while.”

Cascade Natural Gas was not able to inform NKSD of the situation until schools were already in session, putting the district in a precarious position as whether or not to keep students in school.

“The gas was cut off that heats at least part of our schools but we weren’t informed about it,” said school board president Catherine Ahl. “It was a difficult decision ... but the decision was made to keep (the students) at school.”

Will Odell, Cascade’s Chief Operating Officer at its Seattle headquarters, said although there was a malfunction at a metering station in Chico, his company was not able to contact the school district on Jan. 4 because no one was around to answer calls. Odell said the line’s gas flow was restored early Sunday afternoon but NKSD officials didn’t discover the problem until the next morning.

NKHS, which currently has one of its two boilers down for maintenance, was hit especially hard by the temporarily-downed gas line and took twice the time to heat than usual.

North Kitsap parent Cynthia Wolski said she was distressed when one of her children called from North Kitsap High School to report the news.

“My daughter was wearing mittens, gloves and a scarf and she still called and said, ‘I can’t feel my hands, I can’t feel my feet,” she explained.

Wolski, who picked up her daughter from school, said she also noticed other students with “blue lips” due to cold temperatures.

District officials have established a procedure, similar to one already in place with Kitsap Public Utilities District, should a “downed line” situation occur again.

“As a district, we’ve established better communications system between Cascade Gas and the district,” Ahl said.

North Kitsap School District is moving toward establishing gas heat at all schools, due to the lower cost associated.

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