Vale city and school district officials tussle over new middle school water line

VALE – Water to Vale’s new middle school remains shut off as city and school district officials argue over whether the line was installed legally.

In a special meeting Monday night, the Vale City Council pulled back earlier demands outlined in a letter sent last week that school officials correct the situation. Instead, councilors plan to meet Wednesday with the city public works committee for a more complete briefing on the matter. They took that step despite Mayor Mike McLaughlin’s effort to fashion a compromise.

The matter has become a war of letters. Katy Lamb, Vale city manager, outlined the city’s concerns in writing last week. Alisha McBride, Vale School District superintendent, shot back in a letter on Monday with her own accounting of the construction kerfuffle.

At issue is a water line loop installed around the middle school by a district contractor last spring. 

School district officials say the loop, which is intended for fire protection and water supply to the new school, was part of the building plans that were accepted by the city.

City officials contend the water line wasn’t approved by the city engineer and the installation wasn’t properly inspected before it was hooked into the city water system. 

“As a result, to ensure protection of our water system and the health of our community residents, we had no option but to turn the water off from the district’s line and isolate it from our system until proper action by the district is taken to resolve the issue,” Lamb wrote in her letter to McBride. The water line was shut off Aug. 29, according to Lamb.

In city letter sent last week proposes these alternatives for the district’s next steps:

• Construct two concrete vaults to hold backflow prevention valves. The vaults would be placed at the two points where the water line connects with the city water system.

The district would build and maintain the vaults and also would be responsible for annual inspections.

The city also would require the district to extend a four-inch water service line from the school to the city’s system on Viking Drive.

• Let the city take ownership of the school’s water line. For the city to consider this option it would require certification from the district’s project architect that the middle school water system complies with city standards. 

The district would need to provide daily construction reports and photos from the installation and documents proving the line sits on a proper bed of soil, along with pressure testing and bacteriology reports.

Brad Williams, Vale city council president, said last week he was ticked off about construction seeming to “go rogue” on the project. He also said he thought plans were for a partial loop, not a full loop and that the city had not signed off on a full loop as claimed by the district’s own engineers.

The water meter for the school now sits at the back of the facility and the city wants it out front. 

“We have our requirements they have to meet,” said Williams. “They did not consult with us or get any approval to put the line in or inspections for that line. We had to look at it before they covered it up. We have to run it by our engineers.”

McBride said she believes a compromise is possible.

“The city has brought to our attention some questions regarding the water line and the water meter, and we are working collaboratively with city officials to work through that process,” said McBride.

Williams, Lamb and Mayor Mike McLaughlin also said they want to find a compromise.

“We are working with the school district to make sure the project goes through. We don’t want to cause the school district any delay. I think we will be just fine going forward,” said McLaughlin.

Lamb, in her letter, also said the city wants to work cooperatively with the district.

“We are interested in ensuring that the most appropriate long-term solution is implemented that best serves the interests of both the city and the district,” she wrote. “In doing so, we are obligated to the community to only accept water system components that meet the city’s standards, have been properly constructed, and will provide safe drinking water to our citizens.”

McBride said the water line issue isn’t slowing progress on the new school.

“It is going very well. We have much of the gym exterior completed. We’ve completed the majority of the site work,” said McBride.

McBride said the new middle school is a leap forward in terms of modernizing the district buildings.

“We have aging facilities. Every building in our district requires significant investment and maintenance so it will be nice to have a new facility,” said McBride.

McBride said construction is tentatively scheduled to be completed next spring.