Early Thursday morning, the Thomas County School System’s Maintenance Department was notified that employees and students at Garrison-Pilcher Elementary School were complaining about the odor of diesel fuel in some parts of the building. A few students and teachers complained of headaches that they believed to be associated with the odor. The maintenance department investigated the odor and found diesel fuel in a ditch near the school.
Maintenance Department Director John Hebron notified Thomas County School Superintendent Dr. Dusty Kornegay of the situation. Kornegay went to the school and made the decision to evacuate all students and staff from Garrison-Pilcher to the gym at Thomas County Central High School. Parents were notified by way of the district’s phone alert system that they could pick their children up from the gym at Thomas County Central.
No odors were detected at nearby Cross Creek Elementary School, but as a precautionary measure, Superintendent Kornegay requested that Thomas County Emergency Management make an assessment of any potential danger to Cross Creek. It was determined that Cross Creek was outside the danger zone.
It appears that the fuel originated from a spill at the Murphy USA Station on 319 and flowed downstream into the creek that runs behind Garrison-Pilcher Elementary School.
Thomas County Public Works, Thomas County Emergency Management, and an oil recovery contractor worked throughout the day Thursday removing the contaminated liquid from the ditches and creek behind the school. Assistant Chief of Thomas County Emergency Management Bob Duthoy determined Thursday afternoon that it would be safe for Garrison-Pilcher to resume normal operations on Friday.
“I wish to thank Garrison-Pilcher Principal Sharonda Wilson and her staff, Thomas County Central High School Principal Trista Jones and her staff, Assistant Superintendents Dr. Scott James and Dr. Bob Dechman, Maintenance Director John Hebron and his staff, the transportation department, and Ms. Marie Ragan and her staff in the cafeteria at TCCHS for handling the evacuation process in an orderly and efficient manner. I could not be more proud of our staff. I also wish to thank the students for their excellent behavior during the evacuation and the teachers who flawlessly executed our emergency plan. I am very proud of our team for how well they worked together to take care of the children. I also wish to thank the Garrison-Pilcher parents for their understanding in picking up their children. We certainly apologize for any inconvenience caused by the evacuation,” Kornegay said.
“I also wish to thank the Thomas County Sheriff’s Department, Mr. Tony Bodiford and the Thomas County Public Works Department and Thomas County Fire Chief Chris Jones and Assistant Chief Bob Duthoy and their department for the rapid response to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” Kornegay added.
While there will be on-going remediation of soil contaminated by the spill in the woods behind the school over the next several days, all work will be outside the fenced-in campus area, and normal school operations will not be affected.