School district signs contract for water treatment facility

LANGLEY — The South Whidbey School District has moved closer to turning the taps back on in local schools.

The district signed a construction contract with a Renton company last week to install a new water treatment facility.

Since December 2004, the district has paid for bottled water after lead was discovered at one of the schools. The new treatment plant, however, will reduce or eliminate the long-running problem of unsafe water in school water lines and drinking fountains.

Joe Anastasi, the district’s maintenance supervisor, assigned the building contract to C.D. Construction & Management Inc. and construction will begin April 28.

While the actual construction will occur during a 60- to 75-day period, the company has a total of 120 days to complete the work.

That means an August time frame for commencement of system and water testing, Anastasi said.

The company will do most of the building construction work, but will use two subcontractors to work on the electrical and masonry items.

“They do everything else themselves, the underground work and plumbing, the roofing, the carpentry,” he said.

The new treatment plant building will consist of a concrete pad and a concrete block building. It will measure approximately 35 by 25 feet. Water treatment modules, including an ozone generator, will be placed inside the building, Anastasi added.

Once ozone is injected into the water, it will eliminate the naturally-occuring iron and manganese from the water, which will settle out of the water in an underground tank, also in the building.

Anastasi hopes that with the elimination of the metals from the water, the district will not have to use so much chlorine to cleanse the water. Once the acidic nature of the water is reduced, it should cut down and eliminate the lead that’s leaching into the water at the Intermediate, Primary and high schools along Maxwelton Road.

Once the systems are in place, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state Department of Health will visit the district to test the systems and the water, Anastasi said.

“They will be here to make sure everything is in compliance,” Anastasi said, adding that tests will include one week of operations at “full-bore.”

Anastasi will run the water treatment facility up and down in pressure and water volume as a pilot test, he said.

“We will look to see that the chlorine goes up or down according to flow and the quality of the water remains stable as it comes out,” he said. “They will certify that the water is ready to go into the system.”

But before kids can drink the water this next school year, Anastasi will be looking for leaks and clearing out the crud from school drinking fountains that have sat dormant for three years.

“We’d have to check every single fitting. You have the corrosive water up to the point in the lines that could be eating away at washers and gaskets. So we will have leaks,” he said.

“Any water system that has been down for years, when you fire it up, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of leaks. That is why it is good to be doing it over the summer, so we’re not disrupting the kids.”

If lead is still found in the water, Anastasi’s next course of action is to replace sinks and water fountains.

Some fixtures date back more than a generation.

“The primary school has the oldest fittings as it was built in the 1960s. The intermediate school was built in 1988, so its fittings are newer, and the high school has newer fittings than that,” Anastasi said.

But he has hope. The same issue occurred at schools in Seattle and once the district put a new water treatment system in, the lead was no longer an issue.

“After they cleaned up the water, a lot of the leaching disappeared,” he said.

For South Whidbey students, the new treatment facility may mean the best water they’ve ever had.

“It will probably be the best water this district has had since it built the well in 1981. We will be consuming much less chlorine,” Anastasi said.

When the water treatment system comes online later on this year, it will remove another headache for Anastasi — bottled water.

“It’s expensive. You’re depending on someone to bring it once a week. On occasion, more often than I’d like to admit, they don’t show up for whatever reason,” he said.

“We have 50 of those dispensers throughout the schools. They have to be maintained. This has cost us $40,000 a year since it started,” he added.

The process has been a long and expensive one for Anastasi and the district.

The system, in its final stages, cost nearly $700,000. “We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel — finally,” Anastasi said. “It’s been a long process. When you have something of this magnitude, you want to do it right.”

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@south

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