Westport Community Schools officials are still trying to determine how a three-year-old pump and pressure monitoring system at the new middle high school failed Monday evening, forcing the district …
Westport Community School officials are still trying to determine how a three-year-old pump and pressure monitoring system at the new middle high school failed Monday evening, forcing the district to cancel opening day at both it, nearby Westport Elementary and the public library, all of which are fed from the same system.
While there are still many unknowns, and other problems with the water system have yet to be worked out, one thing is clear: The problem going to cost the district thousands as the pump was out of warranty and the district is self-insured.
“My expectation based on the time that people spent here and then getting the pump, is it’s going to be at least five figures,” or $10,000, schools superintendent Thomas Aubin said Wednesday morning.
“Because there’s no fluff in the budget and this is way over and what we would have available in our maintenance account, we’re going to have to look around and figure out where this is going to come from.”
In the meantime, school re-opened Wednesday at both Westport Elementary and the middle high school, and the library was also open for business.
Due to protocols put in place by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), were initially required to use bottled water for food preparation and drinking Wednesday and Thursday — school is closed Friday. Workers are adjusting the food service plans to lessen their reliance on pots and pans, which will be washed at the Macomber School through the end of the week. Though water bacteria tests that came in Wednesday afternoon would have allowed the district to switch back to well water, Aubin said the district will stick to bottled water through the end of the week "out of an abundance of caution."
Maintenance and fire officials had just completed and passed a required fire suppression system test at the new school Monday afternoon, when a maintenance worker in the west wing noticed an issue with low water pressure at about 6:30 p.m.
By 7 p.m., Aubin was at the school with facilities director Manny Moniz, the maintenance staff and others, trying to diagnose the problem.
The school, as well as the elementary school and library, are served by a single large pump and two 3,000-gallon tanks that lie within the old campground property behind the school, and were installed during the school’s construction.
“This happened pretty quickly,” Aubin said. “This didn’t seem to be a problem until after the fire suppression test.”
The tanks have a computerized monitoring system that is supposed to alert staff when the levels drop below 1,500 gallons (in either tank), but that alarm never went off.
“We thought it was the well but what was disturbing was that when we tried to diagnose what was going on, our water levels in the two tanks were down to 250 gallons each (but) the software was showing that the tanks were full.”
School officials contacted Zenergy, the outfit that put the well and pump system in as a subcontractor to the school’s general contractor, Agostini Bacon Construction Companies. Afterwards, workers from Northeast Water Solution Inc. arrived.
Working into the night, they helped school officials determine that a check valve in the pump had become stuck, causing the issue. The problem required a complete new pump assembly.
By midday Tuesday, the new pump’s installation was well underway, and it was restarted late in the afternoon. Once the tanks were filled to more than 2,000 gallons each, officials were able to check the system and made the call to open school for Wednesday.
Aubin said he is still waiting to hear from the school building project manager about the low tank warning system, and Moniz has recommended adding a second check valve on the pump as a way of extending the pump’s life.
Throughout the process, DEP officials were kept abreast of developments and among other things ordered the district to boil all water used for cooking or drinking purposes. But with the turnaround time on water test results running 18 hours, Aubin said district officials decided to provide bottled water, minimize the use of pots and pans, and wash them off site. He expects that protocol will be in place through the end of the school week Thursday.
Aubin admitted the water issue was an unwelcome start to the school year, but said he is proud of his staff for addressing the problem as quickly as possible.
“It was a pretty tough night Monday night and a tough day on Tuesday,” he said. “But we have an unbelievably professional staff. This well feeds three commercial buildings. We found the problem and had it fixed within 24 hours. I think that’s pretty impressive.”