District seeks grant to clear water

Clearing up the drinking water in South Whidbey schools will cost about $600,000; but school officials are confident the fix will be funded with a federal grant.

Officials expect to hear soon whether the district will receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore clean water to the three affected schools and the South Whidbey Health Department.

But it won’t be a quick fix. Students and staff will be drinking bottled water through the end of the year.

The three-pronged engineering project is expected to be completed in August before school begins next fall.

“We are nearing the end of a long road,” said John Willson, director of maintenance and transportation for the district. “But we are not there yet.”

The proposed plan will not only remove the lead from the water but will further treat the water to reduce the mineral content.

“The modifications will include treating the water at the source and in the storage wells, and replacing all the plumbing fixtures in the four buildings,” Willson said.

The district has been working with the engineering firm HDR, a national firm with experience in fixing water problems in Puget Sound schools.

“They have been great to work with and really understand our problem,” Willson said. “HDR was awarded the contract to fix the lead problem in the Seattle schools.”

HDR did a preliminary study for the district but the final contract will be awarded to the lowest bidder.

The district has already received a $25,000 grant from the agriculture department to help foot the bill for bottled water. The grant was awarded in fall 2005 and will buy about six months of bottled water.

Quenching the thirst of school children gets expensive quick.

“We are spending about $4,000 a month on bottled water,” Willson said.

Before it’s all done the district will spend about $50,000 of its own money on bottled water.

In November 2004 district officials discovered the presence of lead in the drinking water at three of the district’s schools.

Routine tests discovered traces of lead in excess of state standards, and the problem stretched beyond South End classrooms. The Island County Health Department is also served by the school district’s well.

Langley Middle School and Bayview School were given a clean bill of health because they are served by other water districts.

Ten sites were tested, including kitchen taps, health rooms and several classrooms; six of those tested were found above the acceptable level set by the state Department of Health. The state requires action when lead concentrations exceed 0.015 milligrams per liter.

The district’s highest lead concentrations were found in water at the high school kitchen (with .0820 million milligrams per liter) and in Room 212 (with .0570 million milligrams per liter).

If the district does not receive the federal grant, it will seek low or no-cost loans to fund parts of the project not already covered by the grant.

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