Chief Jo students briefly evacuated because of smoky smell

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 16, 2012 

Students at Chief Joseph Middle School in Richland briefly were evacuated Thursday morning after a smoky smell was detected in the building.

School officials said no fire was found and students returned to class by about 8:30 a.m. A faulty belt in the school's heating system, a project earmarked for replacement if voters approve a $98 million bond in February, was found to be causing the smell.

Steve Aagaard, Richland School District spokesman, said the smell was detected around 7 a.m. as students began to show up for the school day. Initially, students were kept in the school's gymnasium before eventually being moved outside.

Several Richland fire engines were called to the school to investigate, leading to the discovery of the problem in the heating system. Aagaard said maintenance workers were repairing the belt and no further problems were expected Thursday.

District officials have said the heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph is in bad repair and at risk of failure. Under the current bond proposal, about $6 million would be used to replace the system if voters approve the bond. The district cannot use maintenance funds for the project because the whole system would be replaced rather than repaired.

School board members are scheduled to continue discussions of the bond at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the district's administration building. The board has discussed modifying the bond after some district residents voiced concerns about how it would close Jefferson Elementary School as a K-5 school and the size of the some building projects.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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