The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 7, 2003


Warrant Article 1
School asks $1.3 million for wastewater plant
State reimbursement in doubt if project rejected

At Monday night's Special Town Meeting voters will decide the fate of a new wastewater treatment plant for the Carlisle School. With a 60% state reimbursement riding on the decision, school officials hope voters will approve the project to take advantage of the reimbursement, even if payback could take years given the state's current economy.

With few items on the Warrant, the School Building Committee is also concerned about getting the 150 people needed for a quorum to show up at Town Meeting. "I urge everyone to go to Town Meeting so we don't jeopardize the state funding," says Carlisle School Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson.

The total estimated cost for the system is $1,499,000 and includes construction of a wastewater treatment facility and a septic field. The school has over $200,000 available from funds previously set aside for a septic system in the 1996 school link building expansion project. When applied to the current project, it brings the amount requested in the Warrant Article to $1,278,918. The Selectmen support the Article (see story on page 5). (The FinCom was scheduled to take a position on the Article on Wednesday night, after press time.)

State requires prompt completion

In 1996, the state School Building Assistance Bureau, SBA, agreed to a 60% reimbursement rate for a new septic field, required in the link building expansion project. Currently, the state has promised to reimburse the wastewater plant at the same rate. However, the SBA commitment is based on work being completed in a timely manner. In a letter dated September 22 from SBA Administrator Christine Lynch to school Business Manager Steve Moore, Lynch writes, "This project must start by the summer of 2004 and no further extensions will be granted. Delays beyond that timeframe would necessitate the submittal of a new application." The letter goes on to say, "Approval of this extension of time does not guarantee that all expenditures related to this phase of the project [the wastewater treatment plant] will be accepted." The SBA will review all expenses at a final audit of the project.

Even if the project is funded by the town this fall, state reimbursement funds are likely to take several years with the state's economic condition, acknowledges Moore. However, he says, "If we wait, there's no guarantee we'll get state funding." Governor Romney put a moratorium on funding new school building projects this year while the SBA program and its large list of approved building projects is examined.

School Building Committee Chair Paul Morrison pointed out that the project has already encountered delays. "We have to do the project sometime. The system is in technical failure."

Until the system is redone, the school is required by the Board of Health to pump out the septic tank monthly at a cost of $1,000 a month. The school building committee plans to replace the current failed septic system with a new wastewater treatment facility designed to meet the needs of the existing school as well as a possible future expansion of the school.

If the project is approved at Town Meeting, a simple majority vote is required to approve the expenditure on the ballot on Tuesday, November 18, and the wastewater plant is the only question on the ballot.

Impact on tax rate

The expected tax-rate impact is ten cents per $1,000 of assessed value on each real property for the first year or two, according to Town Treasurer and Tax Collector Larry Barton. Since the state will not send any reimbursement moneys for the first few years, the tax- rate impact is projected without any reimbursement factored in, says Barton. Debt service will decline over the twenty years projected to pay off the debt to five cents per $1,000 of valuation. With a tax rate of $12.47 per $1,000 next year, the wastewater plant will add 0.8% to the tax bill, says Barton. With the average home value in Carlisle now at $723,043, the tax bill would increase by $72 on the average home. Any state reimbursement funds received in the future would reduce the tax impact.

Wastewater facility required

Since 1996, student enrollment has grown and has increased flow rates at the school. Consequently the school is now required to have a wastewater treatment facility rather than a septic system. To qualify for state reimbursement the school must plan ten years out for its anticipated future wastewater requirements, says Fox-Melanson. Despite the slowdown in the local real estate market, many believe enrollments will increase again once the economy rebounds because of the desirability of Carlisle and the reputation of the school system with its high student MCAS scores.

RBC system "tried-and true"

The rotary biological contactor (RBC) system proposed is technology used in the majority of schools and office parks in the state, says engineer Paul Clinghan of Hoyle, Tanner Associates (HTA), the engineering firm that designed the system. "It's 30-year-old technology that meets the state's ground water discharge permit requirements," he says. "The system chosen has the best track record and is tried-and-true with the Department of Environmental Protection," says Fox-Melanson.

The wastewater plant proposed is a masonry building approximately 40 x 50 feet in size that will be located on school property in the sloping wooded area between the back corner of the gym and the Spalding playing fields. The building will be visible through the woods from Spalding Field, says Flannery.

The building houses several steel tanks including a large pre-treatment or septic tank, a flow-equalization tank, an aerobic anoxic RBC tank, a clarifier RBC tank, and a tertiary sand filtration tank. It has a simple lab for performing tests.

Maintenance $50K annually

State and federal laws require the system to be maintained by a person licensed for wastewater treatment testing at an estimated cost of $50,000 annually. The town could have an employee of the school or the Department of Public Works licensed to do the daily testing or hire an outside contractor. Both Concord and Westford also have people licensed to do wastewater testing, according to school Building and Grounds Supervisor David Flannery. The part-time job includes testing nitrate levels in the wastewater sent to the leaching field and measuring flow rates.

Part of maintenance includes completing a daily report log and filing a monthly report with the state DEP. The facility must always be in compliance with state regulations or the town could face expensive fines, says Flannery. The DEP will make periodic site visits to the plant.

Wastewater plant, leaching field locations

The Building Committee worked with engineers for months this year trying to come up with a suitable site for the plant that would have the least impact on neighbors. The site chosen has a 50-foot setback from the closest abutter, the Carlisle Congregational Church, and is well down the hill from the church's back parking lot. An access road for the plant will be built off the existing road that runs along the left side of the school gym. The access road will require fill to even out the sloping site.

Plans show the school's treated sewerage being piped from the wastewater treatment plant on the slope beside the gym, down under Spalding Field and out to Church Street. The sewerage pipe travels along the side of Church Street to the corner of Bedford Road where it turns and runs along the side of Bedford Road/Route 225 and up to the leaching field at the Banta-Davis Land. The pipe routing will take the most efficient path, according to Moore. Any replacement costs for the sprinkler system under Spalding Field are cheaper than cutting up pavement along Church Street, he says. The leaching field planned for the Banta-Davis Land is sited in the field to the left of the lower baseball playing field, beyond the chain link fence surrounding the field.

ConsCom, DEP approval required

The Building Committee brought the plan before the Carlisle Conservation Commission in October and filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the ConsCom. The project requires ConsCom approval because the sewerage pipe will cross Pages Brook along Church Street. The pipe will be buried under the brook area and will not be visible on the surface, says Moore.

Along with approval by the ConsCom, the project must also be approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). A NOI for the project was also filed with the DEP in October. The state review is expected to take several months before the school is notified of a decision.

The ConsCom asked that the NOI be reviewed by an independent consultant to verify that it is complete and accurate. The building committee hired a consultant for the review and expected to hear his comments at the ConsCom meeting last night.

Completion in 2005

If funds are approved at Town Meeting and the polls and the DEP approves the project, construction is expected to begin next summer and be completed within six months, or early 2005.

"It has gone on way too long," says Fox-Melanson of the project that has been pending in one form or another since 1996. "My only regret is that it won't be completed before I leave," says Fox-Melanson who leaves Carlisle at the end of the school year.

Project history

It's been seven years since the school's septic system was found in technical failure under state Department of Environmental Protection Title 5 regulations in 1996. A septic system inspection was required for the school link expansion project, says Flannery. The system was found in technical failure because the distance between the high-water mark and the bottom of the school leaching field located under Spalding Field was less than five feet and failed Title 5 regulations. Until the new system is in place, Flannery says the school continues voluntary quarterly tests for the Board of Health on water quality in the swamp pond on Church Street. All samples taken have been within normal ranges.

The replacement septic system planned to be sited on the Banta-Davis Land was challenged by a Bedford Road abutter in a law suit. The Rivers Protection Act was cited in the suit because Pages Brook, a year round stream located on Church Street, must be crossed by a sewerage pipe running from the school down to the lower Banta-Davis Land. The suit, along with a glitch in the town's initial filing with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), held up construction plans for several years as town officials and lawyers tried to determine if there was an alternate site for the septic field.

In the meantime, through discussions with engineering firms, the Building Committee learned last year that wastewater treatment plants are exempt from Rivers Protection Act regulations. The previous plan that proposed a new septic system for the school was not exempt from the Rivers Protection Act. While the wastewater plant required is more costly than the septic system originally planned, its exemption from the Rivers Protection Act was welcome news for the building committee and school and town officials, allowing plans for the wastewater system to proceed.

Completing the wastewater plant became the top priority for the School Building Committee this year, after plans for a school campus expansion were put on hold due to the economy.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito