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Rockdale County High School evacuated for gas leak

Staff Photo: Erin Evans  Rockdale County High School was evacuated Wednesday morning after a construction worker hit a gas line near the school's gym. Students were sent to the RCHS Annex and C.J. Hicks Elementary School until they were released to return to the school building just before noon Wednesday.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans Rockdale County High School was evacuated Wednesday morning after a construction worker hit a gas line near the school's gym. Students were sent to the RCHS Annex and C.J. Hicks Elementary School until they were released to return to the school building just before noon Wednesday.

CONYERS -- Students and staff at Rockdale County High School are hoping for a normal school day today, after being evacuated for part of the day Wednesday due to a gas leak.

The school was evacuated around 10 a.m. Wednesday after a construction worker hit a 2 -inch gas line while working at the construction site of the school's new gymnasium.

Rockdale County Fire-Rescue and Atlanta Gas Light Company crews responded, while the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office and Conyers Police Department worked traffic control in the area around the school. Students from the main RCHS campus were evacuated to the adjacent C.J. Hicks Elementary School and the RCHS Annex.

Just before noon Wednesday, Atlanta Gas Light crews had contained the gas leak, and emergency officials cleared the building for students and staff to return to most of the building. The gym was closed off for most the of the day while gas fumes aired out, according to Cindy Ball, director of Community Relations at Rockdale County Public Schools.

"We appreciate everyone's patience and support during times like this," Ball said in a message to parents on Wednesday after the incident. "The safety of our students and staff is our top priority."

Sharon Webb, public information officer for Rockdale Fire-Rescue, said the gas leak occurred in an open area where the baseball field was located, and gas fumes quickly permeated the gym and the school building, due in part to the buildings' ventilation systems that pulled the fumes inside. Webb said the fire department shut down the school's ventilation systems and then began efforts to reverse the air flow. Fire department personnel monitored the gas levels in the building until it was safe for students and staff to return.

Webb said there were no injuries as a result of the gas leak, although a few students were treated by National EMS at the scene for heat-related issues as a result of standing outside.

Ball said she expected no delays in the construction as a result of Wednesday's incident.

Bowen & Watson of Toccoa is working on a $10 million construction project that will replace part of the athletic facility and add on to the campus.

The project, which the Rockdale County Board of Education recently approved for the low bid of $10,286,850, will include the construction of a new gymnasium and renovation of the existing gymnasium into classrooms, administrative space, locker rooms and training rooms. The project also could include the relocation of utilities and stormwater pipe systems.

The existing gym was part of the original construction of the school in 1962.

As part of the project, the company will construct a larger replacement gym with a lobby, concession area and restrooms.

The upper floor in the old gym will be converted to a classroom space with 17 rooms, including two science areas, and an administrative space.

On the lower floor, the space will be renovated and expanded to include new locker rooms, offices, storage, two health classrooms, training rooms and a multipurpose room for use by wrestling, cheerleading and other groups.

The project also will include a new parking lot, four replacement tennis courts, stormwater detention areas, water quality improvements, a small two-story building adjacent to the track for stadium locker and weight rooms and a JROTC space, new stadium lighting and a new roof on the old gym.

It is funded through SPLOST II and III funds, which are revenues from a special tax that only can be used for specific projects as previously approved by residents in a referendum.

The project is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2012.