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Butler County's Summit Elementary not ready to open amid lead scare

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, 11:39 a.m.
Summit Elementary in Butler County.
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Summit Elementary in Butler County.
Summit Elementary School in the Butler Area School District.
Butler Area School District
Summit Elementary School in the Butler Area School District.

The new water lines are connected to Summit Township Elementary School in Butler County where lead-tainted well water caused the school's controversial closure.

However, the school will not open as scheduled on Aug. 30 as water engineers continue to runs tests to determine whether pipes or fixtures inside the school need to be replaced.

“Our water engineers are working diligently and methodically to get the water quality issues fixed permanently, and to get it right the first time,” school board member Leland Clark told the Tribune-Review Wednesday. “Now that public water is flowing into the school, we need to be patient.”

Summit was closed in January and its approximately 250 students began attending the formerly shuttered Broad Street Elementary in Butler. The Butler Area School District announced in a Jan. 20 letter to parents that students and staff at Summit had been told not to drink the water from a well on the property because it was contaminated with lead.

Three school district administrators, including Superintendent Dale Lumley, have resigned since then, and a criminal investigation is ongoing as to whether the lead issue was covered up for months before the Jan. 20 letter.

When Summit might reopen to students and teachers remains unclear, but Clark is hopeful that day is coming soon.

The school board voted in March to do away with well water and hook up to new water lines with Pennsylvania American Water Co.

“Once this last step is complete, the district will be able to give a timeline on when the school will officially reopen,” Clark said.

Carrie Collins of Herman, who has a fourth-grade daughter at Summit, is encouraged.

“I do see there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “The water is hooked up, but I want to be absolutely sure we don't put our kids into a situation that might be dangerous.”

Collins, however, is befuddled by the lack of updates on the criminal investigation.

Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger said there are no updates regarding the state police criminal investigation.

I feel like there should be some sort of resolution,” Collins said. “If the result is no wrongdoing, I can accept that. I just don't want it swept under the rug anymore. It seems like nothing is being done.”

Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit against the district in connection with the lead crisis has been withdrawn by plaintiff's attorneys.

Jennifer Tait sued the district and Lumley after her daughter, Jillian, who attended Summit, tested positive for lead exposure. The case filed by attorneys Brendan Lupetin and Douglas Olcott sought class-action status, which would let families of other students exposed to lead in the water join the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also sought unspecified monetary damages and an order for the district to pay for periodic lead testing for Summit students.

Lupetin, a Pittsburgh attorney, said the lawsuit might be refiled in state court.

School district Solicitor Tom King said Wednesday that the federal judge assigned to the lawsuit ordered the parties to participate in mediation, despite the withdrawal.

“Both parties are engaged in that process,” he said.

Another judge was appointed as a mediator to evaluate the case.

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

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