The mechanisms that are supposed to monitor each of the oil tanks at Darien's pubic schools are all defective to one degree or another, consultants have told the town, so the Board of Education has approved a plan to replace the mechanisms and most of the tanks.
Schools Finance Director Richard Huot told the board that if it approves the $513,000 plan by Silver, Petrucelli & Associates of Hamden to replace the tanks and mechanisms, school officials can then go to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to get its approval of the plan.
That, in turn, would help the town put the project out to bid by its target date of April 1, he said. An early start is important, he said, because getting the replacement tanks and devices sometimes takes two or three months more, and school officials want to get the new tanks in the ground, covered up and working before school starts in the fall.
The board, with member Morgan Whittier absent, approved the money unanimously. School board members are meeting with the Board of Finance early next month to discuss the project and other matters, in order to get that board's approval as well.
Huot gave the board this account of the needs at each school and how the school district came to find it needed new heating oil tanks at nearly every school building:
- Hindley School is the only school in the district run on natural gas, so when its tank is removed, it won't be replaced. Removing the tank and regrading the ground, however, will cost $30,000.
- Tokeneke School and Middlesex Middle School don't need to get their tanks replaced—only the monitoring systems. (Tokeneke has been using one that was originally used in the previous school building.) The cost is only $6,500 for each school, and since those costs are below the state minimum of $10,000 for projects receiving state aid, the town will pay the entire cost at those schools.
- Holmes School has a 4,000-gallon heating oil tank right below the sidewalks just at the main entrance to the school. All other schools have larger, 10,000-gallon tanks which need to be refilled fewer times, saving the town money. Although Holmes is ready to use natural gas for heating, the pipeline near the school doesn't have enough pressure to allow the school to hook up to it. The total of all costs associated with the tank and monitoring system replacement, along with other costs associated with the work, like regrading soil, the estimated cost is $144,000.
- At Darien High School, the heating oil tank won't be replaced, but the monitoring equipment and some other equipment will. Also, the concrete pad over the tank will need to be replaced. The total estimated cost is $25,000.
- Royle School and Ox Ridge School will each get tanks and monitoring equipment replaced. For Royle, the estimated cost is $148,000. At Ox Ridge, $153,000.
When Michael Lynch became the town's new director of facilities and operations back in 2012, he had the school district's heating oil tanks examined—a state mandate that Darien Public Schools had not been complying with for some reason under the previous longtime facilities manager, who later died.
The consultants brought in to examine the heating oil tanks found the monitoring equipment was working at hardly any of the schools.
The monitoring equipment examines the area between the inner tank wall and outer wall of the double-hulled tanks. It checks to see if there's water in that space or oil—which helps determine if there's a leak coming into the tank from the outer wall or from inside the tank through the inner wall.
With the monitoring equipment not working, it's hard to tell if the tank is leaking heating oil out into the surrounding soil, causing harm to the groundwater supply. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection cited the town for violating state environmental law for not having working monitoring equipment.
Also not working were many of the "sacrificial anodes" attached to the tanks. The anodes, connected to the steel tanks, help prevent the tanks from rusting since the anodes are meant to rust instead of the tanks.
Replacing the tanks catches any possible leaks early, protecting the environment. The tanks, many of which were first installed in the 1980s, were due for replacement within a few years, anyway, Huot said.