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Teachers, student talk gas wells at board meeting

Members of the Guyer High School community voiced concern at Tuesday night's Denton school board meeting over gas wells that sit adjacent to the school.

Guyer librarian Margarete Neale called the wells a "clear and present danger" after a recent Denton Record-Chronicle story revealed  natural gas from another nearby well in southern Denton may have seeped underground and bubbled up through an abandoned water well.

"What we're working under is the assumption of whether that methane all escaped or if there's still the potential for methane to pool up over by our school," Neale said. "That is the danger."

Isaac Escobar, the owner of the water well where gas bubbles were found, notified the Texas Railroad Commission of the incident in November. State inspectors found a small hole in a well a half-mile from Escobar's property but could not confirm whether it was the cause of the gas in the water well.

Officials also inspected neighboring wells, including the site near Guyer a half-mile away. Inspectors initially reported problems at the Guyer wells but later said they misread the pressure gauge.

Responding to an open records request, the Railroad Commission produced no inspection records for the wells near Guyer for two years prior to the incident in November.

Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson said he wasn't notified personally of the incident.

"If there were a reason for us to evacuate the schools, the Railroad Commission or the fire department or any of those folks would have contacted us to say students are in danger," Wilson said. "There's a series of steps for that to happen that we deal with all the time. It's a concern that we're prepared for without it specifically being for [a gas leak]."

Guyer French teacher Jennifer Hensley and Guyer senior Michaela Larry also addressed board members and implored them to take more precautions.

"I have lived in Denton since I was 5 years old, and I've never known about these gas leaks until maybe a week ago," Larry said.

Larry and Hensley presented a four-part plan calling for more monitoring of the wells, more inspections by third parties, additional notification for stakeholders and a clear evacuation plan in case a leak does occur.

"There's not a viable evacuation plan," Hensley said. "Apparently, we're supposed to wait on buses to come from the bus barn by Ryan [High School]. I live in Lewisville now, but I used to live by Ryan. It takes me less time to go through five towns to get to Guyer now than it did when I lived by Ryan."

District officials said they have an evacuation plan in place to get students away from the building if an emergency occurs, but it's not specifically labeled as a "gas leak" evacuation plan. District spokesman Mario Zavala also said school employees would lead students to a safe location while they wait for buses to arrive and have practiced the process in drills.

Zavala said the district typically doesn't notify parents of outside architecture near schools because that would also include structures like power lines or radio towers. He also said the district is audited every three years by the Texas School Safety Center and is currently compliant.

Wilson said there have been talks about potentially capping the wells because the district needs the extra space.

"I would love for them to take them all," he said. "We're in agreements with people about that so it's a lot of work to make that happen and get those capped."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.