Pipe Replacement Improves the St. Mike's Water System

By: Mark Tarnacki

founders hall constructionSuiting its enviable location in one of America's most pristine and environmentally attuned scenic regions, Saint Michael's College taps into one of the nation's highest-quality water-supplies from the multiple-award-winning Champlain Water District (CWD).

It's great campus water that's about to be even better after engineers and contractors finish a summer/early-fall upgrade of the water's delivery system, prompted by too many expensive and disruptive breaks in the main line along Route 15 during the past year because of deteriorating original main lines which, in places, were 75 to 100 years old.

Anyone passing campus on Route 15 this summer couldn't miss backhoes, dump trucks, workers in hard hats and hulking yet almost sculptural metal "trench sleeves" on lawns that keep workers safe as they work laying new or taking out old pipe in trenches. All the main-campus work is complete, so it won’t affect students, and the next few months workers will be boring under Route 15 from across the highway near Prevel Hall, the fire/rescue station and down to Gorge Road just before the Interstate for various system loop lines, reports Rick Battistoni of the facilities department.

For many years, college admissions chief Jerry Flanagan and Fr. Joe McLaughlin, a priest from the college's founding Edmundite order, have been leaders for Colchester Fire District No. 1 – the 75-year-old municipal water-delivery - entity for St. Mike's and its immediate Winooski Park neighbors. The district's history is one of challenges well-met to assure water for an originally isolated little college high on a hill.

saint michael's college sign with construction in backgroundAt times, that's meant logistically or politically "going with the flow" of shifting political or infrastructure realities in greater Burlington and Winooski Park, McLaughlin says. Before the upgrade, one legacy of cumulative water-service improvisations - necessary and notably foresighted in their times - was nevertheless a vexing patchwork of lines around and under campus with too many redundancies or dead-end pipe branches for optimal efficiency. The recent upgrade - nearly 9,000 feet of pipe has been decommissioned, much of it old cast-iron, with about 5,000 feet of new PVC pipe installed - involves CWD taking over some lines once owned by the college. It's a better arrangement for both. Water will flow more smoothly and constantly now, making it fresher, and uninterrupted service is better assured via rerouting options during maintenance. Ratepayers - St. Mike's is about 50 percent of the Fire District's business - will cover the costs through assessment fees, but water rates will go down concurrently to offset that, McLaughlin says, and the project is a cost-saver in the long-run, particularly given expensive recent repairs and their likely recurrence otherwise.

Champlain Water District was first in the nation to win a national "Excellence in Water Treatment Award" from the Partnership for Safe Water in the late 1990s, and has received the award for 10 recent years running, one of only 76 districts in the nation to do so. Its water also placed first in a 2011 Vermont-wide tap-water taste-test competition.

Read more about the history on the Saint Michael's College water system.

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