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August 28. 2013 12:16AM

Tainted water delays Hollis-Brookline High opening

HOLLIS — The start of the new school year has been delayed for a day after the presence of E. coli was found in one of Hollis-Brookline High School's wells.

School officials said efforts are now under way to complete the decontamination process and as it stands now, the plan is to hold the first full day of classes on Friday, with incoming freshmen to attend a half-day orientation on Thursday.

Earlier this summer, the district learned that the facility's water system was contaminated with E. coli in one of its four wells, with traces of fecal coliform found in a second well.

Since then, the school's water source has been tested periodically, though after one of the wells still tested positive for E. coli Monday afternoon, Superintendent Dr. John Moody said he was left with no choice but to delay the first day of school.

On Tuesday afternoon, Principal Cindy Matte said a test conducted on the well earlier that day had came up clean, though the state Department of Environmental Services requires the well to pass two consecutive tests in order to meet state regulations.

State officials issued a boil water advisory on the school's water system last week, meaning any water being used for consumption would need to be vigorously boiled for at least two minutes — not exactly a practical protocol in a busy school setting.

Another test was scheduled to take place Wednesday morning, school administrators said.

Matte said the school's water holding tanks have all been drained and the entire system was flushed with heavily chlorinated water to kill any resilient bacteria.

Once that process is completed, the system must be flushed again with clean, chemical-free water to remove all traces of chlorine.

"We do apologize for any inconvenience we've caused for some families, but the safety of our students is our top priority," Matte said.

The high school was open on Tuesday afternoon for students dropping by to complete their course registrations or get their student IDs for the coming year, though the building's drinking fountains were off-limits.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Moody said preparations for the new academic year were well under way and the school was fully staffed as teachers prepared their classrooms for incoming students."We've got plenty of bottled water and hand sanitizer on hand in the meantime," Moody said, noting that in the best-case scenario, the situation would be fully resolved as of late Wednesday afternoon.As it stands now, the one-day delay won't prolong the school year next spring, according to Moody.

"A longer-term plan has been discussed, but we're hoping it doesn't come down to that," he added.
aguilmet@newstote.com


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