School board declares emergency at Jefferson School

By 
Hunter Herbaugh Ranger-review Staff Writer
Thursday, June 30, 2022
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The Glendive Public School District will have to take emergency action to address issues with the water at Jefferson Elementary School before classes can resume this fall. This was the subject of a special GUSB board of trustees meeting held Tuesday to discuss how to address the issue in the most timely manner possible.

An analysis of the school’s water has found it to be highly corrosive, resulting in it pulling lead and other minerals from the schools pipes, resulting in damage to the pipes. As it stands now, the school does not have a water system approved for school use.

Problems with the school’s water were first discovered at the beginning of the year, when state required lead testing revealed a widespread issue at JES. Further testing has revealed the full scope of the problem, with the water source the school uses being identified as corrossive.

Ultimately, the board voted to declare the situation an “unforeseen emergency,” giving the district an opportunity to expedite a solution before classes resume this fall.

According to district Facilities Director Rhett Coon’s report on the issue, the situation at JES is a worst case scenario, with the Ph balance of JES’s water measuring over 9.1, which classifies as “intolerably corrossive.” He explained to the board at their meeting that the school has to disconnect from its current well and find a new source of water. Ideally, he expressed his belief that getting the school connected to the City of Glendive’s water system would be the best option.

The primary issue however is that with a change in source, there must also be a review by the Department of Environmental Quality, a regularly lengthy process, and the district only has roughly a month and a half before school starts. Coon and trustee Frank Ceane, both of whom are also city officials, noted that getting water from any other source would likely lengthen the review process, however since the city’s water is a known source, they are hopeful that can shorten any review.

Coon’s suggested plan is to build a water storage facility that would house tanks near the school that would be filled with city water that can be pumped into the school. The water would be collected from a city water source and trucked to the school.

“Going with that, our goal is to talk to DEQ and encourage them to allow us to proceed with this process because we know that the water is good. There’s no extra treatment that we’ll have to do. It’s good when it’s brought to us on site,” Coon said.

Along with DEQ review there is also bid requirement concerns. Under state law, any project over $80,000 must be put out to bid. Any solution to JES’s water problems will likely be over that amount, so normally, the district would be required to go out to bid, thereby lengthening the process. However, as part of the unforeseen emergency declaration, the district will be able to try and move forward without having the go to bid.

“We don’t have the timeline to go out for bid, so there is law in there that states in an unforseen emergency, we can declare that and we can move,” Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis explained.

Coon added that through his various conversations with inspectors and contractors, he already has a lineup of people who are ready to help move the process along with whatever help they can give, including permitting and testing, to get new water into the school as soon as possible.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

Look for additional information in Sunday’s Ranger-Review

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