Drinking fountains are almost ready, school officials say

After a seven-month delay, the South Whidbey School District may be within a couple of weeks of bringing water fountains back to its buildings.

“We’re getting closer,” Joe Anastasi, district maintenance supervisor, said Monday. “We still have a few things we’re checking.

“Every gremlin you can imagine came up on this job,” he continued. “I don’t think anyone realized how difficult this water was going to be to treat. It created a lot of delays.”

“But it’s going to be really good water,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bayview School also is ready to go back to drinking fountains, Anastasi said. Officials await only a go-ahead from the state Department of Health.

The school was put on bottled water about two years ago when unacceptable traces of arsenic were discovered in the water system.

The primary, intermediate and high schools along Maxwelton Road have been making do with bottled water since 2004, when unacceptable traces of lead were discovered in the system, along with iron and manganese that were coloring the water.

A long and complex water-treatment project that includes the updating of equipment inside the schools was to have been completed last August, before the start of the current school year.

The district acquired a United States Department of Agriculture grant, and an engineering study was completed.

But delays between the contractor and its subcontractors have kept the bottled water flowing at a total cost for the past three years of more than $120,000, District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said.

The project was expected to cost $592,000, including a district contribution of $150,000.

But because of rising prices, the job may run about $100,000 over budget. Money for the overrun was included in a capital-projects levy that was approved by voters in February 2008, he said.

The new treatment plant consists of a concrete-block building measuring 35 by 25 feet. Water treatment modules, including an ozone generator, are inside.

When ozone is injected into the water, it’s expected to eliminate the naturally-occurring iron and manganese, which will settle in an underground tank. And once the acidic nature of the water is reduced, most or all of the lead leaching into the water at the schools is expected to be eliminated.

Elimination of the metals means the district can use less chlorine in the water, leaving it flavorful and pure.

Anastasi said preliminary testing has been completed and the state health department has given the district permission to proceed with the new automated system.

He said the two water tanks across from the high school, one 139,000 gallons and one 40,000, are being emptied and refilled, and testing for lead continues.

Meanwhile, Anastasi said officials need to be careful that during this process enough water is available for emergency firefighting.

“We want the system to run for a reasonable amount of time,” Anastasi said. “We’re on automatic mode for the first time, and we need to gain some confidence.”

At the historic Bayview School, the district’s alternative facility at Bayview Corner, an arsenic cleanser has been installed and the drinking fountain system is ready to go, pending a letter from the state health department.

“That was an off-the-shelf system and was easy to install,” Anastasi said. “It passed all the tests, and there’s no trace of arsenic.”

McCarthy said the district will be relieved to get back to drinking fountains.

“We’ve waited a long time for this,” he said Monday. “It’s an important accomplishment for us.”

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