Friday, October 24, 2003
The mother of all septic projects
When the early settlers saw Carlisle's rocky ledges and wetlands, they settled in Concord and built their homes and septic systems there. In Carlisle we have lots of septic system stories, some small and routine, some unbelievably large and complex. But the Carlisle Public School's story is the mother of all sewage stories. And we now must write its biggest — and hopefully last important chapter; we must build a new $1.5 million wastewater treatment plant.
The existing school septic system failed a Title 5 inspection in 1996, at the time of the school link building expansion. Since then the school has been operating by pumping its septic tank monthly at a cost of $1,000. Fortunately, this patch-up strategy has worked well and it has actually saved the town a lot of money.
In the meantime, a new septic system for the school, designed to be built on the Banta-Davis Land off Bedford Road, has been delayed by litigation and by endless testing of other town-owned lands in hopes of finding some alternative location, far from the litigious abutters. (See "School to ask for wastewater plant at Fall Town Meeting. Project delayed seven years by litigation, site selection," by Darlene D'Amour, in the October 10 issue, on the web.) Over the intervening seven years, the school enrollment has grown, and the replacement septic system has morphed into a more expensive wastewater treatment plant.
The only truly good news is that the state School Building Assistance Bureau (SBAB), which reimburses schools for capital improvements, has allowed Carlisle to date this project back to the link building expansion, and to honor its 1996 promise of a 60% reimbursement. However, the SBAB has warned Carlisle that further delays will require a new application. The current reimbursement rate is likely to be half that number. It is therefore mandatory that we approve the necessary funding now.
The school still has $233,000 in the 1996 septic system fund. Consequently, the Warrant Article asks for $1,266,000 for the wastewater plant. (See Warrant on page 12.) If passed by a two-thirds vote at the Special Town Meeting on November 10, the funds will also need to be approved by a simple majority at the Special Town Election, scheduled for Tuesday, November 18. Put these important dates on your calendar.
The alternative is to tell our kids to hold it until they get home.
My doorbell is broken and when pressed, it croaks weakly, like a frog with anorexia. So I wasn't sure I heard it until its second croak.
It was 3:30 on a rainy afternoon in September. Home alone, I opened the front door. There stood two teen-age boys in typical attire: baggy pants and oversized T-shirts. They each took a step backward as the door opened, giving me space.
"Hi," said one of them, smiling. "Do you have any jumper cables?"
"No," I answered. "Are you having car trouble?"
"Yeah, we're in something of a jam."
"I'm sorry," I said, abruptly closing the door. Locking the door, I hurried to the window and watched them lope down the driveway, then down the road, out of sight.
I do have jumper cables. I could have offered to help them or at the very least, to call someone for them, but I suddenly felt unsafe and vulnerable in my own home. Just the day before, I'd read a disturbing article in the Boston Globe Magazine about the two teen-aged killers of Half and Suzanne Zantop near Dartmouth College. Six months before the murders, the article read, the same boys had terrorized a vacationing father and young son in a remote cabin not far from the Zantops' home.
Late at night they heard urgent pounding on the cabin door. The startled father, armed with a gun, looked through the glass in the door and saw a teenager. He did not see a second boy, hiding in the bushes. "I have car problems," the boy said gruffly, through the closed door. "Do you have any jumper cables?" The man said no, and the teenager persisted, asking to use the phone. The man offered to phone the local garage, and discovered that his phone wires had been cut. Terror. Then the boys vanished into the night; the father waited fearfully, gun cocked, for dawn. He didn't know that the boys had earlier dug a grave in the nearby woods for him and his son.
This encounter and the brutal murder of the Zantops played in my head when the words "jumper cables" gripped me at my own front door. Later, I convinced myself that these were not thrill-seeking murderers but just two kids in trouble. I am not proud of my refusal to help; it isn't like me, but we live in an increasingly violent world where feeling safe has gone the way of the family farms that once dotted Carlisle's rural landscape.
Trouble can come knocking on any door, any time, anywhere. Who of us has the wisdom to tell the difference between teenage killers and kids with car trouble?
© 2003 The