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Butler school to resolve lead crisis by switching to public water

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 1:30 p.m.
Summit Elementary in Butler County.
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Summit Elementary in Butler County.

Butler Area School District finalized plans to bring public water to closed Summit Elementary with hopes of reopening the school by Sept. 1 and resolving a major lead crisis.

School board members voted 8-1 Monday night to connect Summit to Pennsylvania American Water Co. water lines. A cost analysis presented to the board said it will cost $93,000 over 20 years to use public water, compared with $329,000 over 20 years to chemically treat the property's existing well water.

The district will pay $231,250 up-front on capital costs such as running a water main to the school, permits and engineering work.

“The district made the right decision last night,” school board member Leland Clark said. “By going with public water and shutting down the wells, the district is taking the best option to guarantee safe water to our students and staff. We are also fulfilling a promise to that community that we would fix that school and get it back to them as soon as possible.”

The school district announced in a Jan. 20 letter to parents that Summit students and staff had been told not to drink water at the school because it was contaminated with lead. Authorities are investigating whether school officials discovered the problem months earlier and covered it up.

Pennsylvania American Water Co. is awaiting approval from the state Public Utility Commission to supply public water to a portion of Summit Township, including the school. The commission is accepting written comments from the public on the proposed expansion until May 1.

Gary Lobaugh, the water company's external affairs manager for Western Pennsylvania, said the goal of providing water by next school year is within reach.

“Pennsylvania American Water is pleased to have the support of the Butler Area School District, and we are encouraged by the enthusiasm and support that this project has received within local and state government,” he said. “We know that all our partners are working to get the water supply there for the start of the school year.”

The school's closure and lead controversy led to the resignation of three school district administrators, including Superintendent Dale Lumley. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger said in an email Tuesday that there are no updates regarding the state police criminal probe. He declined to predict when it might be completed.

A federal lawsuit against the district contends that Lumley and administrators discovered in August that Summit's water supply contained lead but they concealed the problem for months. An executive summary of an internal investigation, released last month, also references a possible cover-up or negligence in addressing and communicating about the lead problem.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can impair child brain development and cause kidney damage, mood disorders, weight loss and other ailments.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bencschmitt.

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