Little did the employees of a BMW dealership know they would become an impromptu schoolhouse Thursday morning.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School, some parents and faculty noticed a smell around the school during student drop-off time at 7:30 a.m., school principal Elaine Hassemer said. Later, it was found to be a gas leak.

Upon calling Ameren Missouri, Hassemer was informed she should have everyone evacuate the building. She called BMW of Columbia near the school. The business agreed to house the children until the issue was fixed.

“The family owners are a very nice family,” Hassemer said. “We knew they would open their doors to us.”

The 631 children, 60 staff members and parents who were unable to start their cars in fear of causing a spark were out of the school within an hour.

“It was very efficient,” Hassemer said. “The teachers know what to do in a case of an emergency.”

Ameren found a small valve leak on the roof, but it was not big enough to create the strong smell floating around the school. It is still uncertain where the smell was coming from, Hassemer said.

During Ameren’s inspection the students sat around the dealership’s showroom watching the TVs that were switched from their usual news to kid-friendly channels, said Mary Jo Henry, the dealership’s director of marketing.

Students and faculty sat in the dealership for about an hour before being able to return to school.

“I know the teachers were worried about having (children) around the cars,” Henry said, “but they couldn’t have been more perfect.”

  • Public Life reporter, spring 2019 Studying Print and Digital News - News Reporting Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

Recommended for you

Join the conversation

When posting comments, please follow our community guidelines:
• Login with a social account on WorldTable.
• Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language or engage in personal attacks.
• Stay on topic. Don’t hijack a forum to talk about something else or to post spam.
• Abuse of the community could result in being banned.
• Comments on our website and social media may be published in our newspaper or on our website.