When the wells were designed and built, one thing that wasn’t anticipated “was where that school is located with relationship to the agricultural community,” said Todd Wilder, coordinator of support services for the Powell school district. “So when they start irrigating those fields, the vaults are filling up with water.”
That excess water has damaged wells.
“We had a case where one of those vaults filled all the way, and it didn’t trip the main breaker all the way for whatever reason,” Wilder said.
Each well has a sensor to switch off power when water reaches a certain level, but the device failed that day. Not knowing why the well was down, an employee pulled off the lid to the underground equipment.
“It was just boiling and steaming and melted everything inside it,” Wilder said.
He said he was very worried about the safety concerns for employees and students alike.
Groundwater also keeps the vaults consistently damp, which corrodes the electrical components.
On Tuesday, the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees approved a $108,890 bid for the electrical improvements to ACE Electric of Billings. It was the only bid the district received by the July 25 deadline.
Wilder said the district worked with five local electrical firms and gave them time to prepare a bid.
“All were interested, but as bid time neared, all dropped out,” Wilder wrote in a letter to Powell School Dist. No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell.
Southside has six wells — one irrigation well, and five wells that are part of a geothermal system that helps heat or cool the Southside building. Water is pumped out of the ground and then used in the school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
“In the winter, you can boost your heating by using that groundwater. In the summer, you can help cool those rooms down,” Wilder said.
As part of the improvements, the wells will be brought above ground, and the vaults will be filled in, Wilder said.
“They’ll take all the electronic equipment that’s in the well vault and move it into an equipment building that will be built right next to them,” Wilder said.
That will make it easier for employees to access and maintain the wells.
Another issue with the original design is that the wells were daisy-chained together, so an electronic failure in one area could travel down the line.
“We don’t want single-point failure like that, so we’ll have a dedicated power line to each well,” he said.
The new Southside Elementary opened to students in 2008. The improvements will increase the longevity of the equipment, Wilder said.
“It will be better for us in the long run,” he said.
The project is slated to be completed this fall.