Sewer gas causes stink at Taconic High School

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PITTSFIELD — Sour odors coming from Taconic High School's sewage system have some in the school turning up their noses.

Superintendent Jason McCandless called the issue a small "hiccup," and said the school has already made headway on the remedy.

"This is a massive project," he said Wednesday regarding the new school. "We anticipated some hiccups."

The school opened its doors in September after a yearslong, $21 million construction project to replace the aging high school on an adjacent parcel on Valentine Road.

The sewage smell arose as the weather turned colder, school officials said. Families were informed of the matter with a phone call before the holiday break, McCandless said, and then the district worked to repair the issue while students and staff were away.

In a Wednesday email to faculty, Principal Matt Bishop said "the odor problem seemed to start when the weather changed." At that time, he said in the message, the air grew heavier because of the cold.

"The working theory is that changing winds (specifically north to south winds) are pushing heavier gas towards air intakes," he wrote.

While he noted recent efforts to address the issue "made a big difference," he said "we are still getting brief, intermittent smells specifically in the science labs."

During Wednesday's meeting of the School Committee, McCandless reported improvement. "It's gotten better because of a massive amount of work that went in over Christmas break," he said.

And he emphasized the district is not incurring any additional costs stemming from the problem.

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Bishop detailed progress to date in the Wednesday email. That included extending the sanitary ventilation stacks and adding charcoal filters to the stacks "to scrub the gases." The acid waste trap was also cleaned over vacation, he said, "as that had a significant odor as well."

"All sewer traps were inspected and confirmed to be primed," Bishop wrote.

Asked Thursday if the odors were disrupting classes, Bishop said in an email to The Eagle that "at this time it is not terribly disruptive as the smell is intermittent and dissipates quickly. When the issue first started we did have to relocate a few classes, but only for a period or 2."

The school is also keeping a close eye on rooftop vents, school leaders said.

While it's "a bit of a hiccup," McCandless said, he's "confident we're getting closer to the end solution." In an email to The Eagle, McCandless said he hoped readers "keep in mind that this is a small and fixable inconvenience in a magnificent project that is a gift from this community to its children."

He told members of the School Committee that an industrial hygienist was on scene with contractors in order to assess and address the issue.

"I know this is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but I can assure you Gilbane and Skanska are taking this issue very seriously," Bishop told faculty, referring to the contractors charged with building the school.

He asked faculty to notify him of any odors.

"Thank you for your cooperation with this and I am confident we will get this issue fixed immediately," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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