postheadericon With Sewer Dead, Schools Look At Major Septic Project

school_high120The sewer project may be dead, but Lansing students still have to use the bathroom.  With two failing septic systems and a third reaching the end of its estimated useful life, school officials are planning a replacement project that is estimated to cost more than two million dollars.  School Board President Glen Swanson says he hopes to have a project ready for the May budget and Board Of Education election.

"Everything is going on schedule," Swanson said Monday. "We're going as fast as we can and we're still aiming toward a vote at the time of the budget vote.  We have a timeline."

Although the school district was put on notice years ago by the Tompkins County Health Department that they would have to replace at least two of the three systems, the district was holding out, hoping to be able to connect municipal sewer about a year from now.  That was seen as the best option because it would not require the large sand fields a septic would use, and the estimated lifespan was twenty or more years more than the 30+ year life of a septic system.  Hooking up to a sewer would require little or no maintenance by the school district, and it would be easier to get the project approved by county and state agencies.

"When the Town was considering the possibility of municipal sewer we were also in the process of realizing our septic systems were long overdue for needing replacement," Superintendent Chris Pettograsso told the board Monday.  "We were doing our own planning on what we would need to do if we did have municipal sewer available to us, and what we'd need to do if we needed to replace our septic systems."

In July Town officials announced that the sewer project would not go forward, leaving the schools with no choice but to find a way to process effluent themselves.  The facilities committee considered three options including sub-surface disposal, point discharge with sand filtration beds, and a package plant (a mini-sewage treatment plant) on school property.

"My understanding is that our soil doesn't work for sub-surface disposal," Pettograsso said.  "The cost associated with a package plant is much higher and maintenance is very difficult.  It just didn't seem feasible with our budget.  Point Discharge with sand filtration is pretty much what we have now.  The technology hasn't changed."

The point discharge/sand filtration option is similar to typical residential septic systems, though it will be much larger for the schools.  While the technology has remained the same, governmental regulations have not.

"Although the design of the systems are very similar to what we have now, there are more regulations," Swanson said.  "All these are tightly regulated by the State and the Health Department.  For example, we'll have to have the discharge checked periodically by an independent party to make sure it's clean.  The discharge needs to have either a chlorinator or a ultra-violet light on it.  There are a lot more regulations than there were in the past."

septiclocation_schoolIn this illustration the red boxes show the existing septic systems and the brown show possible replacement system locations.

Pettograsso presented a preliminary plan, drawn up by Tetra Tech Architects and Engineers, showing the locations of three current sand filtration beds and possible locations for new ones. 

"Of course you also have to look at the feasibility and consequences of using that land, and having it being worked on over the summer with sports and different uses for those fields," Pettograsso said.  "So this is just preliminary.  We are waiting for some surveys to come in so we can understand if these are the best locations."

Swanson said that he also asked engineers to find a location for the high school system that will not require a pump, because the current system has had some problems with its pump.  He said he is not sure whether there is such a location, but it is being researched.

School Board member Julie Boles asked what steps could be taken to make the new systems more efficient in water usage, which she said may extend the life of the proposed septic systems.

Swanson and Pettograsso said engineers were asked to look at actual water usage to see whether the system can be downsized.  Water usage is being metered.  Even if it can be down-sized, they said the new systems will be able to accomodate future population growth of 50 to 100 students per building.

School officials are hopeful that voters will approve spending over two million dollars for the project.  About 60% of that is eligible for state aid.  If voters say no officials say they will have to find a way to pay for the systems in the general budget.  But that would be challenging given that the Board of Education is struggling with another budget gap that may require additional cuts to programs.

"If everything goes well and the community supports this we will be looking at an actual project in the summer of 2015," Pettograsso says.  "Construction will start when the students are off campus, and we hope we'll be ready to go at the start of the 2015 school year."

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