The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 22, 2001


$1 million school septic system awaits yet another study

Five years after the septic system at the Carlisle Public School failed, the price tag for a new system has ballooned to $1.1 million and the site is still undecided. At a joint meeting with the selectmen and the finance committee on June 12, Suzanne Whitney Smith presented the Carlisle School Committee's recommendation that the million-dollar facility be built on the town-owned Banta-Davis Land on Bedford Road. This is the same location designated for a new school septic system in 1996 and challenged by abutters Timothy and Phyllis Landers of 326 Bedford Road.

While waiting for resolution, the school has been pumping the septic tank monthly, at a cost of $60,000 over the past five years. Now the school has been told that the population increase at the school has led to increased flow rates, and the state will no longer accept the original plan, but will require construction of a "waste-water treatment facility" costing $1.1 million.

Litigation limbo

In 1996 the school septic system was tested and failed. A plan for siting a new system on the Banta-Davis Land costing $600,000 was not built due to litigation with the Landers. In April 2000 the Massachusetts Superior Court ruled against the town of Carlisle, ordering the town to "re-file its Notice of Intent (NOI) with the Carlisle Conservation Commission, including in the NOI a written analysis of the alternative [Spalding] Field and hillside sites for commission review."

Tests of other sites on school property, including the playground and Spalding Field, have determined there is no other land suitable for a leaching field. Investigation of alternate sites on town land or on private property is a possibility, reported Whitney Smith, but would require about $40,000 to $50,000 for the geo-hydrological study for each site. In addition, this course might raise more abutter issues, as the further the pipe travels, the more abutters there are that could mount a challenge.

School violates codes

Tony Allison, representing the FinCom, responded, "This process could take years. As we've seen, any one person could back up your system." When the audience had recovered from the pun, Eileen Riley, school business manager responded, "The board of health requires replacement of a failed system within two years" making the school currently in violation of Title 5. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has delayed taking action against the school, considering potential litigation, but could lose patience if the issue remains unresolved. In the worst case, the DEP has the power to close the school. However, school grounds manager David Flannery was quick to point out, "This is a technical failure, not a health hazard. Tests have shown the system actually functions very well."


Selectman Vivian Chaput questioned whether conservation measures at the school could reduce the flow levels and bring them below the cut-off for requiring a waste-treatment facility. Flannery responded that conservation measures have already been undertaken, though an all-out effort might reduce flows by 25%, bringing the level to the borderline. However, the system originally proposed would not be able to handle a future additional school. The waste-water treatment facility, on the other hand, "would be able to service an expanded school."

Selectman John Ballantine, endorsing the search for an alternate site,said "it would be prudent to look at a second-best solution." Riley cautioned, "To find two ideal sites (including Banta-Davis) may be practically impossible." School committee member Paul Morrison responded, "We shouldn't discount Banta-Davis" because negotiation with the abutters could still resolve outstanding issues. Deb Belanger of the long term capital requirements committee

After more discussion, it was decided to take $10,000 from the reserve fund for an initial investigation into alternate sites. The school committee will return to the selectmen with the results and a recommendation for which sites, if any, should receive the $50,000 geo-hydrological study.

New school, other needs

John Ballantine introduced discussion of a new school building by presenting some projections of future capital projects and operating costs, long-term debt service, and projected population growth at the school. Upcoming capital expenditures include:

what $m when

CPS septic system $1m 1-2 yrs

CCHS expansion $3-5m 2-3 yrs

(Carlisle share)

CPS expansion $6-16m 4-6 yrs

Managing future expenses

Since debt service is currently dropping off, there was some discussion of whether to start building the stabilization fund as a buffer against these future expenses. Tony Allison, representing the FinCom, was opposed to "overtaxing now for relief later," which he saw as unfair to residents who may leave town by the time the bills come due.

Ballantine pointed out that the expanded school will carry operating costs $600,000 to $850,000 higher than currently. "How do we pay for that?" he asked. Pointing to the new library as an example, Allison agreed this was an issue. "Debt financing over twenty years is no biggy," he said, but town operating expenses even now are rising 10 to 12% per year. Ballantine responded that keeping the tax rate higher to build the stabilization fund might be a way to counter "operating budget complacency." Given the many issues to be resolved, he suggested the town committees collaborate on developing a new five year financial plan for the town encompassing several scenarios for growth.

School growth continues

Paul Morrison of the school committee took issue with school growth figures in Ballantine's report. Pointing out that regist rations for the coming school year put the school population at 865 (the report projected the school reaching 875 in 2005), Morrison added, "Nine hundred (students) is the point of pressure and we're getting very close to that point. We could rip into that 900 in a very few years if growth doesn't stop or level off soon."

Selectman Tim Hult asked at what "trigger point" would a decision be made to build a new school. No one could answer. It was pointed out that $13,000 has been spent on a feasibility study, soon to be completed, which found that Banta-Davis is a feasible location.

Alternatives are few

Selectman Chaput expressed discomfort with the idea of a new school. "We should be looking at alternatives such as expanding on-site." School Business Manager Eileen Riley explained that, due to the sizes of the parking lot, play-spaces, and cafeteria, the school is barred by SBAB regulations from expanding. "SBAB won't fund any expansion on that site," agreed school superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson.

Morrison expressed some frustration with Chaput's question. Speaking of "hanging issues that need to be resolved," he suggested that "we pick a time to settle these issues once and for all." He met with ready agreement from Hult and Ballantine, "I think that's what we should do," Ballantine said, suggesting that when the feasibility study is complete, the selectmen, fincom, and school building committee meet again to reach agreement on a plan.

Chaput suggested that "tighter projections [of school population growth] should be the focus." Crowther responded that, given the many unknowns, the best information available could only project within a discrepency of about fifty kids per year. Pointing to Ballantine's chart, which showed the school population has grown by 174 students in five years (from 640 students in 1995 to 814 in 2000), Beth Hambleton of the school building committee added, "We've seen the school population grow each year, and I see no reason to expect that to change."

+YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito