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School turns down town’s septic proposal: Will go with its own system, rejects unified plan

Deciding they can’t wait any longer, members of the Board of Education are abandoning a unified Center wastewater project in favor of installing its own I/A (Innovative/Alternative) system to treat dangerous nitrogen levels in the school’s drinking water.

Some close to the situation say the school’s decision could result in killing the unified system — which would pipe several Center municipal buildings’ effluent to a wastewater treatment plant on Manwaring Road — since the school would have been the major contributor of wastewater to that system.

But Town Engineer Joe Finora says the Board of Education’s decision won’t stop the town’s plan for one system.

“From an engineering standpoint, the Board of Education’s decision to move independently would not materially change the design of the municipal system,” Mr. Finora said in an interview after the school decision to drop out of the unified project. The unified system “would just process less wastewater absent the school,” Mr. Finora said. He added that it’s up to the Town Board to make a decision about how to proceed.

“I continue to support the centralized system as the best solution,” Mr. Finora said.

Before the project can get underway, school district officials have to ask their engineer to try to scale back the project so new bids for construction could come in lower than the ones received.

Two bids are in, one for $1.2 million and the other for $1.5 million, which are higher than expected.

Accordingly, the Board rejected the bids from Hirsch & Company on Shelter Island and Terry Contracting Corporation in Riverhead.

The high bids further contradict the idea that independent systems are a cheaper approach, Mr. Finora said. The cost of the unified system proposed by Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates has been estimated at $3.1 million. That was based on a project that would include the school. Whether it would be lower without school participation hasn’t been estimated.  

“We’ve got to do something,” Board of Education President Margaret Colligan said, while acknowledging it might not be a decision sealed forever.

The hope of Board members is they eventually could link up to a Center system to treat emerging contaminants if they should find they can’t retrofit the I/A systems for that purpose.

School District officials said, despite the aged septic systems in place, they are still meeting state requirements that make school water potable. But it’s time to act, the Board unanimously agreed.

If the Board is unable to bring down bids for the work, there was talk about reaching out to the town’s Water Quality Improvement Advisory Board (WQI) to seek financial assistance.

Chairman James Eklund of WQI told the Board of Education that, while he encourages I/A systems for residential use, he supports the central project for the school and other Center buildings.

If the WQI recommends a grant to the school, it remains to be seen if the Town Board approves it, given its full-out push for the unified project.

At the April 19 Board of Education special meeting, Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla appealed to the Board of Education to reconsider its decision. School Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., and Board of Education members said they have delayed several times, hoping the unified project would move forward faster, but that hasn’t happened.

Mr. Doelger added that he’s been told Menantic Creek, which already has issues with its water quality, would not be negatively affected by I/A systems because “leaching fields” would be used to deal with runoff water.

Resident Bob Kohn warned that lawsuits could be brought against the Town Board if it persisted in moving forward with the unified system project.