LAWRENCE — Friday, as the region marks the first anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas disaster, students at the Phoenix Academy charter school in Lawrence will remember their classmate and friend, Leonel Rondon, 18. 

Rondon, a Phoenix senior, was the one fatality in the Sept. 13, 2018 gas disaster. He was killed when a house on Chickering Street exploded and the chimney landed on top of his car.

As part of Friday’s curriculum, students will engage in an art therapy project involving Rondon and the gas disaster. 

In coming months, school leaders hope to have a studio at Phoenix Academy specifically dedicated to art therapy, not just for students but for the entire community. 

“We want to make it a therapeutic space,” said Erin McNiff, a social worker Phoenix Academy. 

Phoenix Academy is an alternative school that helps students who may otherwise fall through the cracks finish their high school education.

A kitchen space in the 15 Union St. school (Everett Mills) is eyed for the therapeutic area.

Plans for the art therapy studio in Rondon’s memory were announced this summer. 

Since that time, organizers have worked with Columbia Gas representatives who “felt very positive about our plans and vision for the art studio space,” McNiff said. 

Also, they have visited the Fecteau Leary School in Lynn that already has an established art studio space for ideas.  

Congresswoman Lori Trahan, D-Mass., has offered her support and assistance with the project. 

“The key to recovery is planting those little seeds that will root and strengthen the Lawrence community. The Leonel Rondon Art Therapy Room is one such project and it is already starting to blossom. This project provides a space to encourage art as a way to help Lawrence youth heal in the aftermath of the explosions, but will also help them cope with whatever future challenges life may throw at them,” Trahan wrote in a statement.

“This disaster took the life of one young man and that sorrow will never wane, but this project provides honor to Leonel’s life and name and I am very proud to be a small part of that,” she continued. 

Just after 4 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2018, Rondon drove into a driveway on Chickering Street to drop off friends. Without warning, the house exploded and pushed a brick chimney on top of Rondon.

He was pronounced dead later that night amid continuing fires and evacuations across Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

The disaster, which displaced thousands of people and caused a billion dollars in damage, was blamed on over-pressurization of gas pipes.

Columbia Gas this summer announced it had confidentially settled legal claims with Rondon’s family.

His mother, Rosaly, previously described Leonel as “the happiness of the house.”

In the first days after Rondon’s death, fellow Phoenix Academy students painted a mural at the school in his memory.

“I was given this life because I was strong enough to live it,” reads a quote from Rondon that was incorporated into the mural.

Officials on Friday morning are expected to dedicate a square on Chestnut Street, where he lived with his family, to Rondon. 

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.

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