MAPS moving quickly to provide safe water

Bothwell Middle School in Marquette is pictured. The school is one of several in the Marquette Area Public Schools district where elevated levels of lead was discovered recently. The district’s board of education is moving swiftly to address the issue. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education Thursday gave Superintendent Bill Saunders the go-ahead to move quickly to replace water fixtures in the district’s schools.

The board unanimously voted to invoke the emergency clause in its Revised School Code in that the finding of elevated lead in water constitutes “repair in emergency situations” because it affects the health, safety and welfare of students.

Recent results from testing conducted by Marquette-based TriMedia Environmental & Engineering showed some schools in the district had lead levels above the federally recommended threshold of 15 parts per billion.

The board’s vote basically allows Saunders to bypass the district’s typical standard of soliciting bids, giving him the authority to immediately contract with various entities to get the work done in a timely manner. The board typically would have to vote on accepting bids.

“It allows MAPS to competitively quote but not competitively bid the work that we would need to require in order to make these changes happen prior to the start of the school year,” said Saunders, who pointed out that competitive bidding would require several weeks of putting bid specs together, distributing them and then bringing them back to the school district.

The district faces a time crunch in the water situation.

“School’s getting ready to start Sept. 4, and we need to find that safe environment, and in order to do that, we need to kind of speed up the process of providing that clean, healthy drinking water,” Saunders said.

Saunders outlined a five-phase plan to the board.

The first phase involved contracting TriMedia to test drinking water as well as hand-washing and food-preparation stations. That testing began in June, and it continues.

The second phase is to have each school offer multiple sources of drinking water and bottle refills to meet the strictest recommendations of 5 ppb or less. This may include current bottle-refill stations, water coolers with filtration, etc., he said.

The goal is to have as much of that work as possible completed by Sept. 4.

“Can’t guarantee how far that work is going to go at this point,” Saunders said.

MAPS will continue to have an inventory analysis performed and permanently disable fixtures that no longer are needed, including drinking and hand-washing stations.

“A system would be implemented to label and identify all other water sources as hand washing only, primarily bathrooms, science labs, some of our classroom and other sink-type fixtures,” Saunders said.

The third phase would involve completing work that couldn’t be finished by Sept. 4.

Phase 4 would involve a set-up to allow other school water sources in areas that mistakenly could be used as potable to adhere to the standard of 14 ppb or below. Those target areas would be elementary classroom sinks, food-prep sites, special education classrooms, teacher lounges and other locations, Saunders said.

“By way of education and signage, we would continue to identify bathrooms, science labs, art rooms, other sinks as hand wash only,” Saunders said.

The fifth phase would involve working simultaneously with the first four phases, which is what the school district is doing now.

“MAPS would implement a long-term for plan for continuous monitoring and testing of school water,” Saunders said, with contracting to go through TriMedia.

Saunders said that at this point, the district is looking at installing up to 24 filter-bottle and regular drinking stations before Sept. 4, which would go along with about 15 filtered stations already in the district. Sink fixtures also will be in the equation.

For 24 drinking stations only and what is trying to be accomplished by Sept. 4, it is estimated the cost will be $100,000, said Saunders, who added that amount doesn’t include filtering sinks at a number of locations.

Educating students will play a part, he said.

“Even if we bring those sinks in compliance, we don’t want to send a mixed message that, ‘OK, it’s OK to start drinking out of the sink now,'” Saunders said.

Trustee Keith Glendon said, “I think to me the simplest expression of what I hope we’re aiming for is that any station a child will reasonably drink from will meet or exceed that highest standard of 5 ppb. That’s the goal.”

Saunders stressed the district wants to be fiscally responsible through the process.

“If we do have time to competitively bid, we certainly would,” Saunders said.

However, he reiterated the goal is to have as much work as possible completed by the first day of school.

“Every hour, every day that we delay is a day we possibly won’t get that deadline of Sept. 4,” Saunders said.