Comments on Pond Fuel Frustration

Frustration with a comment by the city’s engineer questioning the district’s decision to deal with its fire suppression flow issues through a holding pond at the Oaken Hills Campus were part of a bond committee progress report at last week’s Willamina School Board meeting.

The plan to expand an existing pond and transform it into a backup reservoir for pumping water in the case of a fire had previously been signed off on by the school district, the City of Willamina and the fire marshal, according to a notice from the State Fire Marshal’s office.

The January 29 notice seemed like the ending to a long-running discussion from the district as to how to deal with low water pressure at the Oaken Hills Campus. There are two separate issues with the water at the campus and at other locations in the city: system pressure and fire flow.

Last spring, the fire marshal informed the district that it would need to raise the amount of water pumped into fire suppression sprinklers from 1000 gallons per minute to 1500 gallons per minute before any new construction could take place. The district has been tasked with fixing the fire flow, not system pressure.

The district must make up the difference between what the nearest fire hydrant pumps and the fire marshal’s requirement of 1500 gallons per minute.

“I’m thrilled that they’re saying that because I’m all about safety up here,” said Dean of Students Bart Baldwin.

Since hearing that the pressure was not up to code, the district has been exploring options for raising the pressure so that there will be no hang-ups for construction of new buildings if the district passes its bond. The district has decided to use the pond to fix the immediate problem because it is the cheapest option and upon its completion, the district would be clear to continue with building plans, said Baldwin who is also chair of the bond committee.

Concern about the plan arose when Keller Associates engineer Peter Olsen met with the city council and stated that he would not recommend the pond. He made the statement in response to questions regarding the Willamina Water Master Plan that he has developed to show how the city can address water problems across the city. He suggested that the city work with the district to improve both system pressure and flow.

Baldwin was frustrated by the statements at the city council meeting because the city had rejected the district’s earlier plan for water flow improvement which would have had the district and the city working together. The request was made before Olsen had completed the Water Master Plan.

The district’s proposal that the city rejected was made in October and stated that the district would use some of its bond funding to pay for the cost of running larger pipe to the Oaken Hill’s Campus, assuming that the bond passed. In exchange for the usage the city would get from the enlarged pipe, the district asked that the city not charge any new fees for construction and reduce the district’s water bill by 50 percent until the district “recognizes” 75 percent of the cost of the project. The district also asked the city to maintain the water line.

Baldwin’s additional frustration came at Olsen’s statement that he would not put in a pond. Baldwin cites a letter from Keller Associates from November 1, 2013.

“Unless the City has a specific agreement with the school district, it is our opinion that the City is not financially responsible for providing a distribution system that will provide the desired fire flows to the high school,” the letter states.

As far as Baldwin is concerned, the statements at the city council meeting contradict what the letter had previously stated. The district has been given the responsibility of fixing the flow and with or without the pond, the system pressure will not be fixed until city-wide improvements can be made, Baldwin said.

The fix of the flow at the Oaken Hills Campus has been signed off on by the fire marshal who has cleared the district to build, Baldwin said.

What Olsen meant with his statement was not that the pond was a bad idea but rather that it only addresses one of two underlying problems, he later said.

“The fire pond is a great idea, it would address the fire flow capacity, but it wouldn’t address the system pressure,” he said.

The system pressure issue is not unique to the district or to the city and Olsen thinks it would be a better use of money to take care of the system pressure in conjunction with the district’s fire flow issue.

“Working with the city my recommendation is that they should work with the district to create a joint project,” he said.

But Olsen said his recommendation comes from the city’s side of things, he has not evaluated the Oaken Hills Campus.

The district’s plan to complete the pond has been approved by HBH Consulting engineer Rob Henry. Henry presented the district with a breakdown of costs for three options for fixing the flow, the cheapest of which was the pond. Last fall the district purchased a pump to install by the pond. The pump is able to pump 1000 gallons per minute, far exceeding the 600 gallon per minute requirement listed in Henry’s report.

The remaining minimum cost from Henry’s report is $84,000. Willamina’s bond, which will appear on the May 20 ballot, includes $88,500 to cover the costs of installation, completing the pond and improving the road to the pond.

In addition to the water pond completion, the $2 million bond is designed to go toward replacement of the modular classrooms used by the elementary school and the construction of a multi-purpose building for agriculture, metal and woodshop classes.

The 36-year-old modular will be replaced with a pre-fabricated six-plex that will hold five classrooms and one workstation, Baldwin said.

The six-plex will cost roughly $400,000 and the multipurpose building will cost around $1.1 million. The total $2 million bond amount also includes incidental costs like equipment and engineering, Baldwin said.

The $2 million total bond will be collected over a period of 10 years. The bond’s rate will be around a $0.64 cent property tax increase per $1000 of assessed property value, Baldwin said.

The increase amounts to roughly $64 more in property tax per year for a $100,000 house.