Like a dog chasing its tail, school board trustees couldn’t decide to re-pipe lead saturated water pipes in Rossland’s two schools or get off the pot and determine the future of those facilities.
With the issue of elevated lead levels in the water supply of the city’s two schools still being booted around by School District 20 (Kootenay-Columbia) trustees, the board also had the unenviable task of deciding if the money spent now to re-pipe the schools’ water systems would be wasted if one school was eventually closed.
On Monday night the board received a recommendation from its finance and facility committee to re-pipe the water supply to both schools — as recommended in an independent engineering report commissioned by the board — if both schools were to remain open.
However, the committee also thought it prudent to wait for reconfiguration of the schools in Rossland — MacLean Elementary and Rossland Secondary School (RSS) — before they committed themselves to re-piping one or both schools, said committee chair and trustee Mark Wilson.
The only firm decision the committee could put forth to the board was a desire for clean, acceptable water within the schools.
“But right now, facing a $1.4 million in budget shortfall, we have to be very prudent with where we are going to be spending our money,” Wilson told the board at their regular meeting Monday night at Trail Middle School. “The intent is to have clean water for the right schools, not just to go out and do something.”
If a decision was made to have both RSS and MacLean open in the future, said Wilson, then the board should go along with the engineering report to fix the water pipes in both of the schools.
The water issue opened a floodgate of emotion over the possibility of school closures in Rossland — an issue that had been around the board table since March, 2009.
Trustee Gordon Smith of Rossland said the board had not put a timeline on when it might consider reconfiguration, intimating it was “frustrating” to have that possible decision lurking as a threat in some discussions.
Last June the board accepted a draft facilities report and, coupled with public pressure, opted not to close one of Rossland’s two schools.
“So we do need to set the record straight and be quite clear as to whether or not we are revisiting (the review) and quit dancing around some of the issues here,” he said.
“Regarding one or the other, my sense is when the board has that discussion and whatever the configuration will be in Rossland, there will be one building for sale.”
He suggested the board should upgrade the water systems of both buildings now and solve a future sale problem of disclosure with lead-tainted water.
Superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach said the school district would disclose that fact if a sale happened, and people would be apprised of the situation before buying.
The board accepted a motion to continue with the current delivery of safe drinking water to both schools — students in the schools use bottled water supplied by SD20 — until they determined what the school configuration will look like in Rossland.
The board also passed a motion that, if both schools are to remain open, it will implement the consultant’s recommendations to re-pipe the water service main from the street and re-pipe cold water distribution within the schools to points of consumption.
The consultant noted that option — at a cost of $64,000 for Maclean Elementary and $127,000 for Rossland Secondary — was cheaper than re-piping the entire school but could still be a long-term solution to the problem.
The money was proposed to come out of the annual facilities grant, non-shareable capital reserves or a request be sent to the Ministry of Education for emergent capital or regular capital project.
In the commissioned report, elevated lead levels, above those permitted by Health Canada guidelines, were found in all 10 water samples analyzed at the two schools, as well as both solder samples.
Some piping in RSS was noted to be galvanized. “Though not analyzed, the zinc coating also most likely contains lead,” the consultant report read.