Students at Charlo Schools briefly returned to online learning last Tuesday and Wednesday after a broken water main shut down the high school and middle schools’ water supply. School resumed last Thursday.
“It’s a very good feeling to have water again,” said Superintendent Steve Love.
The culprit was the 90-degree junction of a pipe believed to have been installed in the 1950s with a pipe coming off the city water line that was probably installed in the ’80s.
“Things just wear out,” Love said.
When the leak was discovered last Monday, Love emailed teachers, asking them to prepare the district’s 260 kids for remote learning for at least one day and possibly longer, since without water, the cafeteria couldn’t prepare meals, the boiler didn’t work, and students and staff had no access to restrooms.
Love calls the relatively easy pivot to remote learning “one of the silver linings of the COVID cloud.” Most teachers use Google Classroom and students in grades 6-12 have access to Chromebooks. Elementary teachers either used Google or sent younger kids home with old-school “paper and pencil work.”
He says no major excavation occurred, but since his office is at the corner of the high school nearest the valve that connects to the Charlo water system, “there is a kind of dirty hole right outside my window.”
The maintenance crew had to locate the broken pipe, “then crawl underneath the old tunnels” to repair it. “The two or three guys who had to get down under there had the dirtiest job, but they got it fixed without tearing up too much stuff outside.”
In his correspondence to parents last week, Love thanked the maintenance crew of Pat Marmon, Drew Dumont, Shad Andersen, Joel Fuhrman and Francis Cahoon, along with Big Creek Plumbing, for their efforts, as well as Charlo Grocery and Coulter Auto for making restrooms available.
“It’s just such a great community because you make a few phone calls and they all come running to help,” he said Friday. “It’s very awesome.”
New HVAC system on the way
Speaking of a silver lining to the COVID cloud, the district will be using pandemic-relief funds to improve air circulation and install new heating/cooling systems and energy-efficient lighting in the elementary and high schools. The project, which will cost over $2.4 million, will be paid for by a combination of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, Impact Aid money, and a loan from Glacier Bank. The district has hired Ameresco to oversee the project.
Love notes that parts of Charlo’s buildings are more than a century old and the boiler system is 60 to 70 years old.
The ESSER money comes with the caveat that it be used to remediate students’ loss of learning during the pandemic, or for facility improvements – especially ventilation. The district used a portion to hire extra teaching staff, and the rest was earmarked for the new HVAC system.
Love predicts that replacing “old-style” lighting with LED lights and switching from an oil-based heating system to electric will drastically enhance efficiency. “The idea is we reduce our monthly and annual costs for energy and those cost savings help us pay off our loan and make strides going the other way.”
The district had hoped to embark on the project last summer but had to postpone due to a lack of contractors and equipment. Love says he knows of at least six other districts in Montana that faced the same predicament.
The infusion of funds “has been a big deal for our school system,” he said. “The board of trustees has been very good with the money we’ve been given. I think we’re using it for the right reasons and I hope our taxpayers appreciate that.”