School evacuates due to smoke detected in theater

By Nolan DeGarlais, News Editor

All students were ordered over the intercom to evacuate from the building due to fears of smoke in the building at approximately 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18. Students who intended to leave immediately after school were permitted to leave, but students who needed to stay in the building for after school activities were required to evacuate onto the field. Students were let back into the building at approximately 2:25 p.m. and most after school activities resumed as usual.

The smoke concerns originated in the theater, where at approximately 1:40 p.m., an odor of electrical smoke was reported. The administration, in the interests of student and staff safety, then ordered a precautionary evacuation of the entire building. A few minutes after the intercom evacuation order was issued, the building’s fire alarm was manually triggered to ensure the building was fully cleared.

As the evacuation occurred at the end of the school day, students were not required to stay in the evacuation zone on the field if they planned to go home. However, students who needed to retrieve belongings or participate in after school activities were required to stay in the evacuation zone until the building was declared safe to re-enter at approximately 2:25 p.m.

“With the end of the school day approaching, students were allowed to proceed home as usual or remain evacuated for after school activities,” Principal Greg Schellenberg said.

As the evacuation order was issued, the MTHS administration also sent out a request to the Mountlake Terrace Fire Department to investigate the smoke in the theater. Representatives from the Mountlake Terrace Police Department also showed up to supervise the scene. The inspection determined the cause of the electrical smoke to be a faulty motor in the school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

The theater was closed for the rest of the evening so that repairs could be conducted on the HVAC system by the school maintenance staff. However, all other after school activities were unaffected by the evacuation and proceeded as planned.

This marks the second time in the past year that a malfunction in the HVAC system has triggered a school-wide evacuation. On Nov. 27, 2017 a poorly adjusted belt in the HVAC system in the main office caused smoke to be released into the school and a school-wide evacuation to be conducted at approximately 2 p.m. This issue was also resolved by school maintenance staff after a fire department inspection determined that there was no threat of an active fire.