Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff announced on Wednesday that Costaño Elementary School in East Palo Alto, which has been without heat since early December due to a gas leak, would have to close early for winter break due to dropping temperatures.
An underground gas leak on Dec. 2 forced the district to turn off a gas line that supplied heat to two-thirds of the classrooms at the Fordham Street elementary school, according to Kevin Sved, a facilities consultant for the district. The school closed on Dec. 3 to identify the location of the leak, finding that there were actually multiple leaks and the underground gas leak would take "extensive work" to pair, Sved said.
School reopened the next day, and students and teachers in the affected classrooms have been using portable, electric space heaters to try to "maintain appropriate classroom temperatures," Hernandez-Goff wrote in a message to parents on Wednesday announcing the school's temporary closure.
"The temperature drop this week made that temporary solution really difficult for the classroom environment," Sved said Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, temperatures in East Palo Alto reached a high of 58 degrees and a low of 35 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.
"Unfortunately, we have discovered that the school's aging electrical system cannot support the number of space heaters required to keep the classrooms warm enough to provide a safe, healthy classroom environment," Hernandez-Goff wrote in her message to parents. "The District cannot provide sufficient heat for students in the classrooms so we made the difficult decision to cancel all classes at Costaño School for the remainder of the week."
With no class Thursday and Friday, students won't return to the school until after winter break, on Jan. 4.
Hernandez-Goff wrote that repair work will continue over the break so that the heating system will again be functional by the time students return to school in the new year.
The district had to go through the Hetch Hetchy Water System for approval, Sved said, since the damaged gas line traverses three main water pipes underneath the school. The water system expedited an approval process that usually takes about two months, he added. Sved estimated the repairs should take about a week.
How the school will make up two days of lost instructional time has yet to be determined, Sved said.
"We fully understand that canceling school is very disruptive for working parents and their families, and we have not been able to identify any workable way to provide needed heat to classrooms for the rest of the week," Hernandez-Goff wrote in her message. "We are working diligently to resolve the problem."
To Sved, the impact of the gas leak underscores a need for major capital improvements in Ravenswood schools.
"What it really points to more than anything is our facilities are in major need of modernization," he said. "We are gearing up toward the (school) board looking at putting a bond measure on the ballot for June that would help keep our schools warm, safe and dry."
On top of the list for many schools, he said, would be roofing and window needs, as well as HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), gas lines and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues.