Test drilling OK’d

MIFFLINTOWN – The Juniata County School Board of Directors held a public meeting Tuesday evening to address ongoing soil and water issues at Walker Elementary School in Mifflintown.

Superintendent Richard Musselman said the district received reports that water at the school was clouded and had an unusual smell. Testing at the site found that the tanks and suction line are in good repair, but a cracked fitting on the return line could be the source of contamination. Musselman said the original fitting was not installed to code.

Despite assurance from the Department of Environmental Protection that the water was safe to drink, the school board voted on Nov. 15 to replace the current well at the school at a total cost of $12,000. However, Musselman said the smell persists and further testing is needed to prove the source of contamination before a new well is drilled.

He recommended contracting the services of P. Joseph Lehman Inc. Consulting Engineers and Perry Petroleum to conduct test drilling on the area.

“It makes no sense to drill a well until we know that the water source is clean,” he urged.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion. Musselman said a rig will be at the school as early as Saturday to begin drilling test wells.

When the source of contamination is identified, Musselman said contaminated ground will be excavated and properly disposed of. A new tank will be installed with double-walled lines slanted toward the tank. If the lines leak, fluids will be directed back toward the tank rather than into the water source, and a monitoring system will alert district administration of the complication.

At this time, the board has only approved test drilling. Musselman said testing will provide the board with more information about required repairs and a cost estimate for the project. The cost is difficult to predict until engineers uncover the full scope of the work needed at the school, he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t spend $15,000 to $20,000 on this,” he said.

Administration is still in the information gathering stages about the failure of the original return line fitting.

While water and soil issues are resolved, students and staff at Walker Elementary School are provided with bottled water to drink, paper products in the cafeteria and portable wash stations to wash hands, Musselman said.

Also during the meeting, the board approved a memorandum of understanding allowing Johnson Controls Inc. to evaluate and recommend mechanical and energy efficient measures for East Juniata High School.

A representative from Johnson Controls Inc. said EJHS has been a source of ongoing repairs that may be less costly to fix now rather than address in an emergency. The initial evaluation is free and will provide the board with a greater understanding of the efficiency of the school.

The representative said Johnson estimates a potential 28 percent reduction in energy use at the school, saving the district approximately $260,000 annually.