Septic Fix Still on Hold

In meantime, Springs spends thousands a month
Grappling with the question of how to fix its aging septic system, and when that could happen, the Springs School Board was to meet this morning to adopt an emergency resolution to address the problem, according to the superintendent, Debra Winter. David E. Rattray

Community frustration in Springs seems to have risen to an even higher level than that of the nitrogen in its neighboring waterbodies, following the Springs School Board’s announcement Monday night that it will continue to delay decision regarding a short-term fix of the school’s septic issues.

Only five weeks remain until the start of the school year, when buildings will once again be filled with some 900 children, teachers, and staff. The septic system, installed in the 1970s for a capacity of 300, broke down in April. Since then the school has been forced to pump out waste every 10 days at the cost of $1,900 per session.

Last Thursday, the school called a special meeting to review bids for immediate solutions from two engineering companies. Lombardo Associates, an environmental consulting and engineering firm specializing in water and wastewater management, proposed a “$150,000 to $200,000 plan to get you out of the frying pan before school starts,” said Pio Lombardo, the company’s president. Several of the proposed components he said, could be reused in the state-of-the-art, nitrogen-reducing system the school plans to install at the time of its building expansion.

By contrast, BBS Architects and Engineers, the school’s architect of record, which sought the services of another engineering firm, H2M, in preparing the bid, presented a “conservative estimate” of $45,000, that one board member, David Conlon, called “too good to be true.”

Mr. Conlon was right. On Monday, the school board announced that BBS had since consulted with Laser Industries, an excavation and clearing company, and as a result its estimate was now $113,500, with none of the components reusable in the future.

With two fairly close bids on the table, Barbara Dayton, the board’s president, focused on the greater issue of repair versus renewal. H2M’s amended proposal is for a repair job only, she said, as they suggest putting in new leaching pools next to existing ones. “Lombardo’s plan,” she said, “is to put new leaching pools out in the fields, making it a capital improvement project.” As such, the school would be required to apply for a building permit from the New York State Education Department, which, according to the school’s new business administrator, Michael Henery, could take 50 weeks.

Community members were quick to voice skepticism and concern.

“Surely this can be viewed as an emergency,” said Carole Campolo, a Springs resident.

“The State Department of Education is a different animal,” explained Timothy Frazier, the vice president of the board. “You can tell them it’s an emergency but they will want to see the data.”

“We have the data,” said Mr. Lombardo. “It is my professional opinion that these leaching pools are no longer functioning and are beyond repair.”

“They were installed 50 years ago for 300 people,” said Ira Barocas, a community member, “how can they be repaired to function properly for 900?”

“The problem is, we’re behind the eight ball,” said Debra Winter, the school’s superintendent, referring to the fact that the school’s septic system was deemed outdated and failing in 2015. “We’ve known about it for two years and now we’re going to them saying it’s an emergency?”

Kevin McAllister, the president of Defend H2O, an environmental group, said he is deeply frustrated by the possibility of the board opting for “a duct-taped approach.” He introduced the school to Lombardo Associates because of the firm’s commitment to install advanced, nitrogen-reducing systems, which comply with Suffolk County Department of Health Services standards. “It is incumbent upon this board to make a decision based on the health and well being of its community and the environment,” he said, adding that permits can always be expedited.

The issue has become even more pertinent as the Suffolk County Legislature recently unanimously approved a $10 million grant program to help eligible homeowners near coastal waterways pay for the installation of high-tech septic systems, as part of an ongoing county program to combat nitrogen levels in local waters. “After decades of managing the decline of our water bodies, we are finally turning the tide,” County Executive Steve Bellone, who proposed the grant effort, said at the time of its passage.

The Springs School Board is seeking the advice of its attorney, hoping to find clarification on the guidelines proposed by the two companies, said Ms. Dayton. “We are taking the situation very seriously. Every day we are reminded of the need to be ready for the start of school. We hope to have a decision later this week.”

The school board was scheduled to meet this morning at 9 to announce their decision.