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Raw sewage closes down high school cafeteria

Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm

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MILFORD—Raw sewage flowed out of restroom floor drains and into a cafeteria at Caroline High School on Tuesday, closing down the cafeteria, Caroline County School Superintendent Greg Killough said.

In addition, the school has had two power outages in October due to aging equipment, said Geoffrey Honan, supervisor of maintenance for Caroline County Public Schools.

As for the sewage backup, the school of 1,100 students has two cafeterias, and students dined in the second cafeteria, though conditions were crowded. Bathrooms on that side of the building on the first floor were closed. The odor was strong and the worst of it lasted for four hours, Honan said.

The cause of the raw sewage problem was a 35-year-old, four-inch iron pipe that is rusty inside, Honan said. The rust slows the flow of solid waste material and eventually causes the pipe to stop up. The sewage flowed out of a restroom, crossed the hallway and ran into the cafeteria, he said.

During the backup, raw sewage also overflowed from a floor drain in a janitor’s closet near the cafeteria. The stopped-up pipe runs under the floor, and the blockage occurred under a classroom about 100 feet from where it starts taking on sewage. Workers had to use a “sewer snake” to unclog the pipe, as well as wet vacuum machines to remove the sewage from the floors, Honan said.

Six workers were involved in unclogging the pipe and in the clean up.

“As for the smell, I don’t think the students were in any danger, but it was disagreeable,” Honan said. “It was an annoyance to the students and it certainly was not conducive to learning.”

The power outages affected the entire school and lasted close to 45 minutes, Honan said. There were due to the age of the equipment and the fact that it may be “overly sensitive,” he added. A problem with one of the air conditioners caused the outages. It had nothing to do with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which serves the school.

“We had to shut everything down and identify the problem,” Honan said. “With service that size, you have to bring things back up gradually to avoid a power surge that could affect the computers and lights.

“There is nothing wrong with the way the system was designed originally,” he said. “But it’s over 35 years old now.” The school was built in 1978 and was never designed for hundreds of computers. In fact, Honan said he estimates that the school has close to 500 computers—roughly 20 to 30 computers in some classrooms. Some classrooms were originally built with only two outlets—one in the front and one in the back.

Events like the sewage backup and the electrical outage are reasons school and county officials are seeking support for a $26.3 million bond referendum that will be on the ballot on Nov. 5. Close to $21 million is needed to expand and upgrade Caroline High, while $4 million is needed to expand and upgrade Madison Elementary School, school officials have said.

Renovation plans for CHS include: replace the roof system, replacement windows, renovate the old library into classrooms, renovate the old administration area into classrooms, replace the entire HVAC system, replace all lighting, replace the entire suspended tile ceiling, new electrical service upgrades as required, new intercom/communications system, new paint throughout, locker room and restroom renovation/plumbing upgrades and new light and sound system for the auditorium.

Building additions at CHS would include: a new entrance and administration area, a new media center (library), new 14,000 square foot gymnasium, new classrooms and three new vocational labs. The school will get a net gain of 16 new classrooms.

Plans call for these athletic facility improvements: upgrade bleachers, re-surface the asphalt track, relocate the long/high jump, restroom facility renovation, expand and renovate the field house and upgrade the athletic fields.

Proposed new additions and renovation for Madison would include: construct a new secure entrance with an expanded lobby into the school, expand the cafeteria dining area, add four new classrooms, two new computer labs, a new media center, construct a new paved bus drop off/pick up area, pave the parking lot and cap the school capacity at 550.