Paris selectman raises concerns with school oil tank

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PARIS — A member of the Board of Selectmen has expressed concerns about the structural integrity and safety of an oil tank and concrete bunker at Paris Elementary School. 

Specifically, it is the build up of rust on the 11,000-gallon tank that worries Selectman Sam Elliot.

“We’re really concerned, because it is not a good setup,” Elliot said.

The setup at Paris Elementary is similar to the tank and bunker at Hebron Station School, where an accidental overfill in late December spilled more than 1,500 gallons of heating oil into the ground underneath the school and into adjacent wetlands. 

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Although the possibility of a similar spill at Paris Elementary is remote, Elliot said if the rust is not addressed, it could threaten the tank’s structural integrity and he wanted to be kept abreast of what the Oxford Hills School District was doing to remedy the situation.

“We’re not trying to overreact,” Elliot said, but he and other town officials want to be kept informed of what steps the school district is taking to address the apparent deficiencies.

SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts said the administration is aware of rust stains on the side of the tank and is scheduled to meet with representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the situation.

Colpitts said rust on the quarter-inch thick tank walls was not uncommon, and did not present any immediate safety concern.

“We’re not losing sleep over it right now,” Colpitts said.

“We know that it exists, we have an appointment with DEP to review all the sites and they will go through and give us recommendations for what we should do,” he said.

Colpitts, along with SAD 17 Facilities Manager David Marshall, Paris Code Enforcement Officer Fred Collins and Town Manager Amy Bernard, toured the school’s system last week.

Heating oil tanks at Paris Elementary, Hebron Station and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris are ensconced in porous concrete bunkers installed beneath the school.

The tank’s rust is the result of humidity from the concrete slabs building up over time, Colpitts said. When the building was constructed in 2007, the water table would rise and water would enter the chamber, Colpitts said, but a pump has since been installed at the school and no water has built up in the room for the past three years.

“We know that it is not a watertight containment room,” Colpitts said. “From that standpoint, it is no surprise that groundwater would leach into it, and we should be prepared to pump it.

“Is that the ideal situation? No, and that’s why we’re having DEP come in to give us some advice,” he said.

Collins, the Paris CEO, agreed that the rust buildup and position of the tank is a concern, but not an immediate threat. 

Even though Paris Elementary School is within Zone II of the town’s wellhead protection area, Coffin said he was confident that any spill would be cleaned up by the time it would become a threat to the groundwater.

pmcguire@sunjournal.com

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