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Sewage backup creates problems on first snow make-up day in Penn Hills

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Snow days exceed makeups

The school year was all set to end on time before last week.

Penn Hills School District officials have called five snow days during the harsh winter weather.

The most recent, on Feb. 18, will require some shuffling of the district calendar.

The district has four built-in makeup days, according to superintendent Thomas Washington.

Last week's cancellation will potentially mean adding school days to the end of the year.

The current academic calendar lists June 6 as the final day for students.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 11:39 a.m.

A sewage backup at Washington Elementary caused an afternoon headache for Penn Hills School District officials on Monday.

On the first of what will now be five make-up days following Tuesday's weather-related closure, superintendent Thomas Washington said a sewage backup spilled over into the elementary school's cafeteria. Administrators were notified around 12:40 p.m. when staff noticed a strong smell in the cafeteria and an odor in the building's front hallway.

“They had to move the food service to an open room,” Washington said. “They served the kids and students went back to their individual rooms.”

District spokeswoman Teresita Kolenchak said two afternoon classes were moved away from the cafeteria area, and a music room and two bathrooms were the only other areas affected.

Washington said speculation on Monday about the backup was exaggerated.

“It's not like it was a backup where we had all this water. People were saying kids were wading through water, and that's just not true.”

Washington said repair crews closed a bathroom and another room and were snaking a sewage pipe to fix the problem.

“By 3:30 or 4 p.m., they had the pipe blown out,” Washington said. “We took precautions to make sure everything was done well,” he said.

A statement issued by the district said no students were in the immediate area of the backup.

The building was cleaned Monday afternoon and evening with the appropriate equipment and solutions, including bleach and industrial strength disinfectant. Because school was not in session on Tuesday, the cleaning process was repeated.

“We want to reassure parents that appropriate precautions were taken to protect their children at all times,” the district said in a statement posted on its website.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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