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Ruptured gas line empties school

Deer Park students sent home early

Nearly 700 students and staff members at Deer Park High School were evacuated Friday after a construction worker operating a backhoe struck a buried natural gas line at the school.

Superintendent Mick Miller said that no one was injured in the mishap and that the evacuation occurred without any major problems. He credited students and staff for their cooperation.

The backhoe operator was working on demolition as part of the first phase in an expansion and renovation of Deer Park High School, which was approved by voters in a bond issue in May 2007. The gas line was ruptured about 11:15 a.m.

Fire crews from Spokane County District No. 4 and a sheriff’s deputy arrived quickly, and students and staff were initially moved to a football field adjacent to the school. From there, they were ushered to nearby Arcadia Elementary School, where the elementary students were finishing their lunch.

Food service workers from the high school helped prepare a second lunch for the high school students, said Miller, adding that afternoon high school classes were canceled.

A short time later, buses were available to take students home. Elementary students already were on an early release for afternoon teacher conferences, Miller said. As a result, bus drivers were on duty and available to transport both elementary and high school students home at 12:40 p.m.

A new phone messaging system was used to alert parents to the situation. Some who had heard sirens had called the school immediately after the line break, Miller said. Parents also arrived at the school to pick up their children early.

A crew from Avista Utilities responded to the scene and clamped off the leaking gas line.

Miller said that students who drove cars to school were allowed back to the parking lot at 12:50 p.m. and that students and staff were allowed back into the high school around 1 p.m.

“The kids were great,” Miller said.

The $45 million expansion and renovation includes a first phase of demolition and construction of a second gymnasium. Garco Construction of Spokane is the general contractor. Other phases involve sewer improvements, a new wrestling room, a classroom wing, theater addition and extensive remodeling.

Voters approved a $24 million bond issue for the upgrades, with the rest of the funding coming from the state, district funds and Loon Lake School District, which uses Deer Park schools for its upper grades, Miller said.

The school district Web site posted an apology to the community Friday afternoon for the inconvenience caused by the incident.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at