Oak Hill High School, Wales RSU 4

WALES — After nearly two years struggling with well problems, Oak Hill High School will connect to a town’s water supply.

The Regional School Unit 4 School Board voted this week to move forward with that project and a number of other repairs and improvements to three buildings, spending $3.7 million total.

“We can try and chip away at them and hope that nothing fails on us over time so that there’s a very small impact on the budget,” said board Chairman Robert English. “Or we can do a performance contract, which allows us to get the work done quickly and then finance it over a number of years so that there’s a very small impact on the budget as well.”

Connecting the Wales high school to the Sabattus water system is one of the largest projects on the list and is expected to cost about $650,000.

The school has gone through seven wells since it opened in 1976, according to Superintendent Andrew Carlton. In early 2018, the water supply became so critically low that the school briefly opened for only half days. Since then, the building has been working to conserve water and has been using two wells, “neither of which has the capacity to run the building (separately), and together it’s pushing it,” Carlton said.

The well issue has also affected the school’s fire suppression system, which contains enough water for the school to be evacuated — saving the lives of more than 400 students and staff in the event of a fire — but it doesn’t have enough water to save the building. And because the school uses wells, Carlton said, there is no fire hydrant nearby for firefighters.

That project is expected to begin next year. Officials hope the high school will be on the town water system by the time school opens for the new year next fall.

The other projects on the $3.7 million list involve multiple buildings and repairs or replacement of doors, windows and air handler units, among other things.

It is unclear what kind of an impact the spending will have on local taxes. The school system plans to borrow the money and will not begin repaying the loan for a year or two. English said the school system may be able to mitigate the cost by then.

RSU 4 includes Sabattus, Litchfield and Wales.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Dec. 16 to correct the town from which Oak Hill High School will be drawing water. 

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