You smell that?

A large chemical filtration system beneath the science classrooms, unknown to current administrators until January, has become clogged by an unknown substance.  The obstruction was first detected because of an odor produced by the chemical backup.

“I’m not quite sure why somebody didn’t know that,” Principal Kit Moran said.  “It’s amazing to me that nobody ever mentioned that.”

The tanks were installed 12 years ago during construction of the high school when Moran wasn’t principal.

The mechanism is made up of two large tanks connected by a tube.  Waste flows from the science room sinks into the first tank where its acidity is neutralized and any precipitates fall to the bottom and are pumped out.

The liquid is then pumped to the next tank through the tube where it is further neutralized.  The clog occurred in this tubing between the tanks.

Science teacher Beau Kimmey said the filtration system is mainly in place to neutralize acids disposed of in the science room sinks, “so you’re not dumping straight acid down into the sewage system.”

The obstruction hasn’t completely stopped drainage from the science rooms, but it has slowed the process dramatically.

He said, “The connection between the two tanks became partially clogged.  It still works, it’s just really slow.  It doesn’t flow as well as it should.”

Kimmey said the biggest trouble comes when multiple classrooms perform labs on the same day and the tanks get backed up.  This is when the tanks begin to smell.

No one is sure exactly what is causing the blockage, but Kimmey said it may be some sort of limestone formed by the water.

“Other than that,” he said, “who knows what kids dump down the sinks.”

He added that he believes the quality of the equipment may be to blame for the issue, because the school may have gone for the cheaper option.

“We’re kind of locked in by what taxpayers are willing to pay,” Kimmey said,  “and when you take the lowest bidder, you don’t always get the highest quality.”

Moran, however, strongly disagreed with Kimmey on that issue.

Moran said that given the fact that the system has been underground for 12 years without receiving any maintenance, it is surprising there haven’t been more problems.

“Is it one of those things that needs to be cleaned every once in a while,” he said, “or is it a quality issue? After a while you gotta put a new roof on your house. I would say, generally speaking, the school’s in good shape.  A lot of people think it’s a brand new building.”

The plan to fix the tanks is to investigate the problem and clean them out during spring break when students are gone.  Moran did add, however, that there are many possibilities for things to go wrong in the process.

He said, “Perfect world, they make it to spring break, and they fix it over spring break, and all is good.  However, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was harder to fix than expected.  This is like the car repair that you’ve never done before.”

Moran also said that there is a chance things get worse before spring break, and he said he told the science teachers, “To the best extent possible, be careful what you’re putting down there.  Every gallon that doesn’t go down there just keeps us in that much better shape.”

Still why did no one know about this container to begin with?  Moran said part of the issue may have been the revolving door of principals before he arrived–six principals in six years at one point–and that many fragments of information may have been lost in transition.

After the obstruction has been cleared, Moran said cleaning it out will be added to the annual checkups by the maintenance staff over the summer so this problem doesn’t occur again.

“At least we’ll know it’s there,” he said.

Still, with such a significant element to the proper function of our building going unnoticed for over a decade, one has to wonder what else might be lurking beneath our school.