The BOE was presented Thursday with the option of paying as much as $412,000 for a new well water filtration system to replace the original one, which has reportedly become unreliable.
Board member Bob Larkins recalled that there were talks two years ago with the Sneedville Water Utility and the Appalachian Regional Commission about extending treated water service into Hawkins County and Clinch Valley and serving the residents of that community as well as the school.
Clinch School is about six miles from the Sneedville Water District, and the cost of the water line expansion at the time was estimated at $6 million.
That project was shelved because there was no interest on the part of the ARC in helping fund it, Larkins noted.
“Glitches pretty regularly”
The K-12 Clinch School located on the north side of Clinch Mountain is the only school in the Hawkins County system that doesn’t get water from a public utility.
Although the school is only about 10 years old, district energy specialist Brandon Williams informed the BOE during a workshop earlier this school year that the original filtration system at Clinch has become unreliable.
“We’ve had issues with that system for some time now,” William said. “A lot of issues revolve around the control system that operates that well. It’s a complicated piece of machinery — glitches pretty regularly. We have taken steps to reduce how often that happens, but it does still happen on a pretty regular basis.”
On Thursday, Williams introduced Jason Snapp from the engineering firm of Mattern and Craig, who presented the BOE with two options to upgrade the well.
One option would last 30 years and cost an estimated $412,000 installed, and the other would last about 8-12 years and cost an estimated $275,000 installed.
Snapp said the difference in the cost is in the equipment, with the higher priced unit being “more robust” with more resilient parts and touch-screen controls.
The new system would have two separate filtration tanks so that if one goes down, the backup automatically switches on.
Williams noted that the area where Clinch School is located is prone to power spikes, which causes the existing well filter system to go offline. He said the backup system is needed to make sure if something happens over the weekend, there is filtered water for students when they arrive Monday morning.
“What would be the harm in asking?”
Larkins suggested that before the board embarks on a “half-million dollar” solution it try one more time for the permanent solution of being served by a public utility.
“Sneedville was interested in providing water to us, and I think the estimate at the time was around $6 million to get a line out there to the school,” Larkins said. “But we're talking about at least a half-million dollars today for a well system.”
BOE Chairman Chris Christian recalled the $900,000 septic system that was installed at Cherokee High School a few years ago following a failed attempt to extend Rogersville city sewer service to the school.
There wasn’t time to get the sewer line to Cherokee because the need at the school was immediate, but Christian believes that sewer service expansion could have sparked development on the south side of the Holston River and benefited the communities south of Rogersville.
With the Clinch issue, Christian suggested there may be time to get a water line to the school and benefit the entire community.
“Any time that we are going to throw a lot of money at something … if we can get a long-term, permanent fix, we’re better off in the long run,” Christian said. “What would be the harm in asking?”
“Let’s get off the well”
Larkins suggested that, hypothetically speaking, if the school system contributed $500,000 to the project and the county commission contributed $500,000, that would be a good down payment on a loan to do the project.
“That school is going to be there probably forever, and rather than talk about 8-10 years and do it again, 20 years and do it again, I would like to see it fixed,” Larkins said. “Bring clean public water out there to the community and our school system, and let’s get off the well.”
The board voted unanimously to have Director of Schools Matt Hixson to contact County Mayor Jim Lee, the county commission, the state, and Sneedville Water Utility to gauge interest in pursuing the water line again.