October 3, 2009


Appleby custodian tends to school’s water

District hopes upgrades will eliminate need for costly safeguards prompted by lead in water


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Appleby Elementary School custodian Alberta Zurbruegg takes a sample of tap water from a kindergarten classroom. Zurbruegg takes periodic samples to make sure the lead content is within acceptable levels.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Appleby Elementary School custodian Alberta Zurbruegg spends a large chunk of her day managing the school’s water supply.
She treats the school’s water supply with chlorine at the school’s pump station on Galatia Street and supplies bottled water to classrooms in which the school has found unsafe levels of lead in its tap water. Four times a year, she tests samples of cold water from the school’s faucets for lead and other substances.
Her job duties could change in the near future if school district voters decide to approve the district’s plan to build a new water tower and then hand over the responsibility of treating and testing its water to village employees.
Superintendent of Schools Tim Turecek sees advantages in the district “getting out of the water business.”
Because Marathon Central School District chlorinates its own water, it is legally a municipal water supplier and is required to also test its own water.
The Board of Education has voted to enter a municipal agreement with the village as the district and village look to upgrade their water systems.
Voters in the school district will have to approve the plan in a referendum, which has not yet been scheduled.
If the plan were approved, the school district would build a new water tower and then give ownership of the new water tower and its pump house, located on Galatia Street, to the village.
The project would cost $2.5 million and would be paid for entirely by state aid, Paulette Fry, the district’s business administrator, has said.
Albany-based Clough Harbour and Associates is designing the water tower and has not given the dimensions of it to the district, Fry said Thursday.
Treating and testing water, repairing the system and buying bottled water for students in the elementary school to drink has cost the district $15,000 a year for the past three years, Fry said earlier this month.
Turecek said completing the project would save the district money on treating water and making repairs to the system and shed the district of its water management responsibilities.
“It’s really not central to our vision,” Turecek said. “It’s just not an area that we really should be concerning ourselves with.”
Voters have already approved a plan for the district to install new water lines in the crawl space of the elementary school to eliminate the source of lead that has been found in the school’s water as part of a $6.5 million capital project. Turecek said he has determined that the source of the lead is lead solder in the water lines.
The capital project also includes a separate plan to fix structural problems with the pipes that bring water into the school from the pump house. The system was poorly designed, Turecek said.
If voters approve the water tower plan, work on these pipes will be scrapped from the capital project, which could reduce the total project cost by $50,000 to $100,000, Turecek said.
Zurbruegg said Wednesday that she supports the district’s plan to give away its water responsibilities to save money and does not mind that she will no longer test and treat water if it is approved.
“We still have plenty for her to do,” Turecek said.
Zurbruegg also supervises the night crew, cleans the building and is on call at all times if there is a problem, she said.
This week Zurbruegg took samples of the water for testing, which she does four times a year. She sends samples of the water to Syracuse-based Life Science, which tests the water for lead, copper, coliform and other potentially harmful substances.
Zurbruegg, 53, a former construction operator, has worked in the district for 18 years.
The school district used to pay the village to treat and test its water, but in 2002 the district decided to find a district employee to do the work, Turecek said.
Zurbruegg offered to do the job. She had to take a class and pass a state Department of Health test to get her water operator’s license. Every three years, she has to take 18 hours of class to renew her license, she said.
Zurbruegg has been a volunteer firefighter with the Marathon Fire Department for 20 years and a driver for the Marathon Volunteer Ambulance Corps for 10 years.


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