by Alan McArthur
The controversial Union Chapel Elementary School sewer construction project is on hold after the Park Hill Board of Education's meeting on Thursday.
During the meeting, Paul Kelly, assistanct superintendent for business and technology, recommended the district postpone the project to install a gravity sewer because of the steep prices nearby residents would have to pay to hook into the system.
Kelly explained the purpose of the project is to fix five main problems at the school with the current sewage package plant.
The five areas are: to eliminate odors in the fields and playgrounds; stop complaints from students, staff and parents about the odor going into the school; remove the age and condition issues with the plant; reduce ongoing maintenance costs; and comply with regulation changes by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The plant is located directly behind the school's playground and has an open grate on the top. The plant is surrounded with a chain-link fence.
Kelly said that in the summer the smell from the plant can get so bad it enters the school and can affect learning in the classrooms.
Jim Rich, director of operations, said the life expectancy of a plant is about 25 years and the plant is currently 31 years old.
Rich also explained how the plant has a grinder pump and two aerators that each require maintenance. Rich also said that in the winter school officials have to place plastic over the plant to keep it from freezing.
The DNR also requires the district to test the outflow from the plant to make sure it complies with waste water quality standards. If the plant fails, the district could face fines of $10,000 per day until the problem is corrected.
Rich said the district will have to comply with new stricter regulations beginning in 2013 about the waste water quality.
Kelly then outlined the history of the gravity sewer project starting in May 2005, when the district was notified about the upcoming changes. Kelly also said the district's Capital Planning Committee discussed the project in 2005 and recommended including it in the April 2006 bond issue.
Opponents to the sewer project have said the project was not specifically mentioned in the ballot language from April 2006. However Kelly said the committee had addressed a large number of projects for the bond issue and left the language broad to include the project without specifically mentioning each of them.
In the summer of 2006, the district decided to pursue the gravity fed sewer because it eliminated the most number of issues with the plant.
However, the cost for the gravity fed sewer is significantly higher than other options. The estimated cost for the project is currently $957,000 before obtaining easements. The cost estimated for a sewage pumping line is $589,000. The cost for a low pressure sewage pumping line is estimated at $214,000.
Kelly said the district had explored partnering with a developer in the area to help pay for the cost of construction, but abandoned the idea after finding potential conflicts.
The district plans to partner with the Platte County Regional Sewer District (PCRSD) to charge a connection fee that would reimburse the school district. However, Bob Weidt, board member, expressed concerns that maybe the area wouldn't develop as fast as the district hopes and therefore would not reimburse the district.
The plan is being postponed because of a recommendation by Kelly after hearing from some residents that the quoted price to connect to the sewer line could be between $80,000 and $140,000 per household. Kelly said the administrators will also look at the option of constructing a new sewer package plant at the school to meet DNR requirements.
Had the project moved forward, Kelly said that the next step would have been to finalize easement agreements with residents. Then in the spring of 2009, the district would have received bids for the project and would have expected the construction to take 60-90 days to complete.
“I just put in a septic system and it cost $12,000,” said Weidt. “It would not please me for Platte County to put a sewer in (and he would be required to hook in). We (Park Hill) didn't want to be in the sewer business, but it is part of what a large district has to be.”
Board member Fred Sanchez said he supports looking into a new on-site septic system.
“I've not seen any study to revisit the issue for an on-site system,” said Sanchez. “We are throwing the dice with any new development.”
Sanchez said he served on the planning and zoning commission and does not like the idea of using eminent domain in projects.
“I think this is a new universe in terms of encroachment on property,” said Sanchez. “I think eminent domain is un-American. I want to see the welfare of the children come first. I'd like to see a minimal environmental footprint for this project.”
After the meeting, some of the residents said they were happy the district had postponed the project.
“Obviously we're pleased,” said Sue Lange, property owner. “We want to get to a solution that wins for everybody.”