Local News

Strange odor prompts school evacuation

LAKE PLACID - A strange odor prompted the evacuation of Lake Placid Elementary School on Wednesday soon after the school day started.

It turned out that the foul smell came from a battery, in a floor cleaning machine, that had exploded sometime overnight.

But before the source of problem was discovered, school and district staff and emergency personnel went into action.

The alert call on the emergency radio scanner stated "hazardous condition" at Lake Placid Elementary School.

County Emergency Operations Center and School District facilities personnel were among the responders to the school.

Superintendent Wally Cox, who also went to the school, said the odor was noticed soon after school started around 7:30 a.m.

"We didn't know what it was so they did the right thing; they evacuated the school," he said.

Due to the rainy and windy weather, and not knowing the source of the odor, the students were evacuated to Lake Placid High School.

The problem was isolated to one building, the newest classroom wing, but the entire school was evacuated as a precautionary measure, Cox said.

Parents were notified of the situation and given the option of picking up their children or letting them remain at the high school.

Social media and Highlands Today "were way ahead of us - every parent in town knew about it," Cox said, in explaining one of the reasons parents were given the option to pick up their children. Also, it was not known how long the problem would persist.

After talking with teachers, Cox estimated that about 50 percent of the school's 900 students went home with their parents.

A number of volunteers came out to assist with the evacuation, including School Board Member Bill Brantley, Cox noted.

Cox said Highlands County Director of Emergency Management Scott Canaday commented that the evacuation went really well.

"We are going to debrief it to see if we can tweak it, but I think overall the staff did a real good job," Cox said.

Lake Placid High Principal Toni Stivender said the elementary students stayed in her school's gymnasium from around 8-11:30 a.m.

Some of the students stayed a little longer than others at the high school, she said. "We had to wait for a few of the rooms at the end to clear out the smell a little bit more."

While the elementary students were on campus, the high school's physical education classes were relocated to other parts of the school such as the weight room, a classroom or the commons, Stivender said.