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Gas leak at Monaco forces evacuation

A gas leak prompted the evacuation of students from Monaco Elementary School in Providence Village early Tuesday morning.

Staff members led students out of the school and escorted them across Cape Cod Boulevard into the Providence Homeowners Association Community Center. They were then bused to Aubrey High School, 6.6 miles away.

“[We were able to smell the gas] in the yellow hallway, and it was coming through the building,” said Shannon Houck, the Monaco Elementary receptionist.

Fourth grade teacher Kyle Wilbert told Shannon Saylor, the assistant superintendent of human resources and student services, that he smelled the gas soon after the leak started. Saylor told Wilbert, who had a megaphone in hand, that he could tell the students a story.

“It’s a story about a front-end loader hitting a gas line,” Wilbert said.

The district released a statement Tuesday afternoon about the situation.

“A natural gas line was cut this morning at Monaco Elementary,” the statement read. “The construction company was conducting soil testing and this particular gas line was not marked.”

The district leadership team, which discusses responses to disaster situations, had prepared for this type of event, Superintendent David Belding said.

“This is actually a scenario we discussed because we knew construction was going to start,” Belding said Wednesday.

He added that he was proud of how the elementary and high school staffs worked together.

“The plan worked,” Belding said. “The kids had a great time on their field trip to the high school and we ensured their safety, which was priority No. 1, and our staff as well.”

The high school staff actively worked to accommodate the needs of the students and staff as quickly as possible.

“We have reunification plans in place, so that’s what we follow, and we’re happy to have everybody here,” Aubrey High School Principal Matt Gore said.

AISD police Chief Scott Collins said he wanted to remind parents to head to the reunification location, not the scene of a disaster, to collect their children in the case of a future disaster.

“That way we can focus on the kids safety, that way they’re taken care of,” Collins said Wednesday. “And we can’t release them during the middle of that incident.”

Saylor was one of the district staff members greeting the kids and staff and directing them to the correct area of the gym by grade level.

Raymond Pheris was volunteering as a Watch D.O.G. and also helped usher people in from the frigid weather.

A steady stream of parents arrived to pick up their children, some pulling up to the school as the buses arrived.

Many said they felt the evacuation was handled smoothly.

“It’s really well organized,” said Angie Graffigna, who was there to pick up her son A.J. O’Connor.

Sarah Priest, who has a first-grader and a fourth-grader, found out about the incident via a neighborhood Facebook page, the Providence Village Water Cooler.

“I went over to the community center, saw that they were evacuating and I just listened,” she said. “They said they were moving them to the high school so, meeting at the high school.”

She was positive about the way the staff worked through the sudden emergency.

“It’s very organized,” Priest said. “They’re doing a great job keeping the kids calm.”

Not all of the parents agreed that it was handled well.

“I was upset there was such a delay in receiving any information from the district while information was being spread unofficially on neighborhood social media pages,” Sarah Burton told The Post-Signal Wednesday.

Some of the Monaco parents reported a delay in receiving the official email announcing the incident.

The gas leak was cleared by 10:19 a.m. and the students who had not been checked out at the high school were returned to the elementary by 10:30 a.m.

Because the school’s cafeteria relies on natural gas for cooking, “the Aubrey ISD Child Nutrition Department arranged for lunch to be prepared by other school cafeterias and transported to Monaco Elementary,” according to the district’s statement.

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