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Middle school odor identified

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East official blames malfunctioning heater

By Mercy Lopez

Las Vegas City Schools officials say they now know what caused the rotten-egg odor that plagued Memorial Middle School for roughly a week, prompting evacuations and even shutting down the school early one week.

Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez told the school board last week that a malfunctioning secondary heater unit caused the smell.

Several students and staff members complained of burning eyes and stomach and headaches, prompting the district to bring in various inspectors and the city gas and fire departments. The district eventually brought in mechanical engineer to determine what the problem was.

“We brought in two different mechanical engineers — and the source of the smell and everything else appears to be coming for the secondary unit,” McNellis-Martinez said. “It has since been shut off, but there is still heat in the building. We have a primary unit that is functioning.”

McNellis-Martinez said the district has determined that the unit needs to be repaired.

“There are some upgrades that need to be done to make the unit more energy efficient,” McNellis-Martinez said. “Those same upgrades will be done to the primary unit at the same time... At no time was there intention of replacing that unit — it was installed in 1993.”

She said the unit needs to have some wiring repaired and needs to be upgraded — all recommendations made by the mechanical engineers and Les Martinez from the Public Schools Finance Authority.

The district has determined the cost for the repairs and upgrades will be less than $50,000 and that it has the funding available. She said the majority of the costs will be for labor.

Reading a prepared statement, Board President Felix Alderete said, “the Board of Education considers students’ safety the priority of every staff member, teacher and administrator in the school district. The response by the administration for the concerns at Memorial Middle School in the last weeks over potential gas leaks is an example of a careful and conservative approach in our schools to ensure that students and staff are safe.”

The rotten-egg smell caused the school to evacuate the facility two times in less than seven days. The first evacuation earlier this month led to students and staff being dismissed for half a Wednesday and the Thursday.  The city of Las Vegas Gas Department turned off the gas meter after leaks were discovered in a gas line on the roof of the facility. Local heating company Hays Plumbing was contracted by the district to look into possible gas leaks and to perform a pressure test on the gas lines. The company fixed the leaks and an inspector from the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department gave the district approval to turn the gas on again.

After returning to school the following Monday, students and staff were once again evacuated for roughly 30 minutes around noon after several people complaints of headaches, burning eyes and stomach aches. At that point, nothing was found,  and staff and students returned to class.

McNellis-Martinez said since then the district has repaired two faulty exhaust fans and a seal on a sewer lift station. The district also installed additional carbon monoxide monitors at the school.

She said an air quality test is scheduled at the Memorial Middle School in early December.