New boiler arrives for Finch Elementary after gas leak

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ATLANTA - Finch Elementary students will spend at least one more day at another school after more than 50 people were sent to the hospital Monday with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tuesday, fire officials confirmed the current boiler system at Finch Elementary violates code and it needs immediate attention. A replacement boiler was being installed at Finch Elementary on Wednesday, but still needs to pass inspection before the building can be reopened for classes.

The last faculty member treated for carbon monoxide poisoning was expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, students from Finch attended classes Tuesday at Kennedy Middle School.

Channel 2's Shae Rozzi asked Atlanta Public Schools officials about attendance to see if it was lower after the carbon monoxide leak Monday. So far, they have not gotten back to her.

Rozzi talked to parents Tuesday who said they were a bit nervous about sending their kids to a different school, but were relieved when they saw them arrive home Tuesday afternoon with smiles on their faces.

"For him to go to school today and to get an education, that's what's most important," father Ali Anderson said.

Fire officials said the boiler system at Finch Elementary was to blame for a CO leak that produced such high levels Monday that students and some staff passed out.

Around 40 students were bused to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding, where nurses checked them out.

The mother of one student, Naqaviya Notae, wonders how long the leak existed.

"My son has been complaining of a headache for two weeks now," Natasha Notae said.

Other students had complained of headaches as well.

"My mama gave me an aspirin because I was crying because my head was hurting," fourth-grader Jasani Manuel said.

While families wait for answers, those who attended school Tuesday were glad their little ones seemed to enjoy the change of scenery and were not focused on why they went to a different campus.

Finch students will go back to Kennedy Middle again Wednesday, with buses running the same way they did Tuesday.

An APS representative said it will be a day-to-day decision as to where they will hold class for Finch students until the replacement boiler is installed and passes inspection.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant spotted an Atlanta Public Schools engineer and contractors behind Finch Elementary late Tuesday afternoon taking measurements for a temporary boiler, to try to get Finch students back to their normal school as soon as they can.

Officials said they are doing everything they can to make the school safe again.

"Whatever it takes to make sure that it's safe for them to return to Finch Elementary School, that's exactly what we're going to do," Deputy Superintendent Steve Smith told Diamant.

Still unable to locate the source of the leak in the school's boiler system, APS leaders chose to shell out big bucks to replace it.

"We will not even take the risk with regard to utilizing the older model. We will have a brand new system installed," Smith said.

A decision parents seemed to appreciate.

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"They need to put a new one in there. That's good that they're doing that," parent Kesha George said.

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens thinks so too, given the challenges his inspectors ran into at the school.

"By the time we got there, their maintenance people had already started taking it apart. That destroyed any ability that we would have to determine what the cause was," Hudgens said

Meantime, district leaders said the new permanent boiler will go in this weekend, but certain things must happend before it goes on line.

"The City of Atlanta Bureau of Buildings will have to sign off on the install. Then inspectors from the State Fire Marshal's Office will have to check it out and issue a permit. Finally, City of Atlanta fire inspectors have to make sure the building is safe before it can reopen," city officials said in a statement to Diamant.

"That's great, so my kids can come back to Finch," parent Tonia Parks said.

Monday, Channel 2 Action News reported the old boiler passed inspection last year. Diamant learned the district will ship the old boiler back to the manufacturer for a forensic inspection.

Meantime, APS has already started inspecting the boilers at its other schools. So far, all have checked out OK.


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