Gas leak that forced evacuation of New Kensington vo-tech school to be investigated | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Gas leak that forced evacuation of New Kensington vo-tech school to be investigated

Brian C. Rittmeyer
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Kensington was evacuated on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, after work crews ruptured a natural gas line behind the technical school.
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Buses arrive at Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Kensington to evacuate students on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, after a gas line was ruptured behind the school.
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Officials said crews with Ligonier Construction were installing a water line for fire hydrants when they hit and broke a 1-inch natural gas line behind the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Kensington on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Firefighters responded to the campus of Valley High School in New Kensington on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, after crews installing a water line behind the adjacent Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center hit and ruptured a natural gas line.

The state’s Public Utility Commission said it will investigate a gas line break Wednesday in New Kensington that forced the evacuation of a school.

Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center was evacuated in the morning and closed for the rest of the day after work crews ruptured a natural gas line on the New Kensington campus it shares with Valley High School.

Officials said crews with Ligonier Construction were installing a new, dedicated waterline to supply fire hydrants behind the Career and Technology Center building, close to Memorial Stadium, when they ruptured a 1-inch natural gas line shortly after 11 a.m.

Peoples Natural Gas spokesman Barry Kukovich said the utility was called to the site and shut off the gas for safety, but “determined it was not our gas line.”

Kukovich said the line belongs to the vocational-technical school.

“They were working with a contractor to repair it,” he said.

Westmoreland County-based Ligonier Construction did not respond to a request for comment.

The state PUC’s safety division will investigate the incident, spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said.

“We’ll investigate from both the perspective of public safety regulations and also from the perspective of PA One Call requirements,” he said.

One Call requires contractors, municipalities and private property owners to call before digging so underground utilities can be located and marked.

“These are not simple incidents,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “These are investigations that take weeks or months to make a determination.”

No injuries were reported.

CTC Director Kurt Kiefer said his school’s morning students — from Franklin-Regional, Burrell and New Kensington-Arnold — already had left for the day when the incident happened.

About 120 Kiski Area School District students, who attend the school all day, were at lunch. They were evacuated away from the building to the high school’s parking lot, then bused back to Kiski Area to go home, he said.

The school’s afternoon classes were canceled, Kiefer said.

Carrie Richard of Vandergrift said she was nearby in New Kensington when her daughter, who attends the career school, called her saying that she didn’t feel well and was scared. Richard swung by and picked up her daughter.

“It’s scary, but it could be worse,” she said.

Valley High School started to evacuate its 850 students to the neighboring track on the opposite side of the campus, but Superintendent John Pallone stopped the evacuation and had the students brought back inside after the natural gas was shut off. He said that happened within minutes.

“Our No. 1 priority is keeping students and staff safe. We have to always err on the side of caution,” he said. “The risk was removed, so we put everybody back in the building.”

Pallone said the school day was interrupted for 15 to 20 minutes.

Kiefer said there was no smell of natural gas in his building.

New Kensington police Chief Bob Deringer said some Valley High School teachers said they could smell gas in rooms nearest to the career school.

The rooms were checked, but no natural gas was detected, Pallone said.

Pallone said the school’s windows were opened to air it out.

“We took every precaution we were supposed to,” he said.

Classes resumed at Valley High School and students completed their day there.

Kiefer said he anticipated classes would resume at the career school as normal Thursday.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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