Chester officials say they’ve kept CAES apprised of water main issue

By Shawn Cunningham
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With new water pipes being laid from Main Street to Chester-Andover Elementary School, Green Mountain Unified School District Board chair Marilyn Mahusky is claiming that the town did not keep the school system informed about a water system deficiency that led to a flood at the elementary school. But town employees and others are pushing back, some saying that the schools have been told of the problem for years and nothing has been done.

A Chester Firefighter works in the boiler room of the school at it fills with water. Courtesy Chester Fire Dept.

Like any other property owner using public water, the school system is responsible for the water pipes from the main to their property. And, according to town officials, they had kept the schools informed of the problem with the pipes: that at 4 inches wide, the line was too small and needed to be replaced. A subsequent break and flood of two classrooms plus an earlier flange break that flooded the boiler room has closed the school at least until early November.

At last Wednesday’s Select Board meeting, Mahusky chided the town for not sharing information about problems with the water pipes leading into the school. She added that an engineering report prepared in 2015 for the town’s water system upgrade mentioned the problem, but that it was never sent to the school. “For something this big it’s really problematic the school board was never provided with an official copy of this report when it came out in 2015,” she said.

Mahusky said that when she and Two Rivers Superintendent Meg Powden had brought their concerns to Chester Town Manager David Pisha and the Water Department the week before, “We were given short shrift and it was really quite dismissive.”

Restoration technicians respond to the second flood on Aug. 27.

But Select Board chair Arne Jonynas, who in the past has served on both the Chester-Andover and Green Mountain High school boards, said that the undersized main installed in the early to mid-1950s was known to the school board but suggested that the information may not have been passed down through the years.

Board member and Assistant Fire Chief Ben Whalen said that 18 years ago, as a 15-year-old Explorer, he was told that everybody knew that the hydrant in front of the school was not working because there isn’t enough flow out of it. He added that on the Friday of the first flood, he did a walk-through of the building with Facilities Manager Jim Spaulding, who told Whalen that, before the flooding happened, he had been working on getting a capital project going on the issue.

On the Monday morning after the select board meeting, Spaulding confirmed the conversation with Whalen.

Also on Monday, GMUSD facilities committee members Joe Fromberger and Fred Marin confirmed that they had visited the district’s three schools in the late spring and summer of this year, talked with each of the facilities directors and prepared a report of priority capital and maintenance items. At CAES, they were asked by Spaulding to include the water main and hydrant work. The report was given to the school board at the facilities committee meeting on Sept. 18, almost a month after the flooding occurred. Because of an onslaught of school budget and “visioning” meetings during the winter, the September 2018 meeting was the first facilities committee meeting held since December 2017.

One of the classes damaged by a leak when the water was turned back on after a repair of the original leak. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted

And Fire Chief Matt Wilson told The Telegraph that every year since he became chief in 2013, he has told each of the three principals who have worked at CAES of the problems with the fire hydrant and explained that the line needed to be replaced.

“I told them that I didn’t know the details, but they should get in touch with Jeff (Holden, Chester’s water superintendent) for more information and that it was the school’s responsibility to deal with it,” said Wilson.

Police Chief Rick Cloud remembered one such conversation at the end of a Crisis Response Team meeting at the elementary school more than a year ago. According to Cloud, Wilson brought up the main and hydrant situation with Principal Katherine Fogg. Fogg did not reply to an email asking if she recalled the meeting and Wilson’s remarks.

Wilson also said that he had personally told Mahusky about the problem in early 2018. Mahusky confirmed that conversation and told The Telegraph that she had asked a member of the CAES board’s facilities committee to look into the matter and that after he spoke with the Town Hall the matter was dropped. A Monday call to the committee member for details and a Tuesday call to Mahusky were not returned by publication time.

Mahusky told the Select Board that she hoped the elementary students could be back at CAES by Thanksgiving.

Work underway at CAES

M&M Excavating works in the street to lay a new main to the school last Sunday

On Sunday morning, an M&M Excavating crew was broke through the pavement on Main Street to begin the installation of 8-inch water pipe. As cars rolled by in a single, open lane, M&M owner Mike O’Neil said, “We couldn’t do this on a weekday.” O’Neil said that on Monday morning, Green Mountain Power would be there to hold the utility pole on the corner in place while his crew digs around it. “After that, it’s pretty straightforward.”

The installation of the school’s new main should be finished by Oct. 6, but the six-week job of replacing the portions of the building’s electrical system that were ruined by water won’t begin until the school board votes to approve the expense.

A meeting to do that was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 25 at Green Mountain High School but was postponed to Thursday, Sept. 27.

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  1. B. Clark says:

    This soap opera is utterly ridiculous. Once the school at which I taught had its entire aluminum electrical system replaced with proper copper wiring after it was melted by a lightening strike. We were out of a school a week. A week. Now after all of this hot potato-pass-the-blame-til-the-music-stops about the water, the electric won’t be fixed for 6 more weeks after a bid is accepted…and the 1st meeting was postponed.

    Honestly, if I was a parent of this community, I would be livid; if I were a teacher, I would be livid and embarrassed, but as an outsider just reading this story it just sounds ridiculous. Stop passing the potato people. Do your jobs efficiently. The quality education of children is at stake. It’s great the community came together to support the students and teachers, but this article really reads like administration and above need to “get their butts in gear” as we say in the south.

  2. Marilyn Mahusky says:

    Shawn, you missed the central thrust of my message to the Chester Selectboard on the 18th. The Town commissioned a report on the water system that was completed in 2015. That report identified the problem with the size of the pipes leading to CAES and characterized it as a level two priority. THAT report was not provided to the CAES Board by the Town which would have highlighted the need to address the problem.

    In January 2018, I became aware for the first time of the Fire Chief’s concerns and immediately shared them with a fellow board member on the facilities committee who followed up with phone calls to the Town Water Department and I believe to the Chief. The response I received from the Board member was that it was a town problem and not our concern. Neither the water department, the town manager or the chief provided us with a copy of the 2015 report, or told us about it when we inquired about the chief’s concerns in early 2018.

    Whether the CAES Board, or the GMUSD would have addressed the problem in the spring of 2018 remains open for debate. What should not remain open for the debate is the need for communication between the Town of Chester and the GMUSD Board and its member schools. A matter of this significance, inquired about by the CAES Board, should have resulted in a copy of the report being brought to the immediate attention of the Board, the Principal or the Superintendent of Schools.

    That was the central thrust of my message to the Selectboard, and to convey the school district’s deep appreciation and thanks to our community for responding so quickly. It was heartwarming to see the community come together in a time of crisis.

  3. Kenneth Ebell says:

    Great reporting (as usual), thank you Chester Telegraph