The Blount County Board of Education voted Thursday, Dec. 5, to pay $260,000 toward the City of Friendsville’s new sewer system.

New wastewater lines and pumps are expected to open up about 400 acres for development along U.S. 321 and save the school district from spending more than $600,000 to replace a treatment facility serving Friendsville Elementary School that is about 50 years old.

“Pardon the pun, but it’s about ready to crap out,” board Chair Debbie Sudhoff said in discussing the project with county commissioners during an Education Committee meeting Tuesday, Dec. 3.

She said if the current “package plant” treatment system at the school failed, it would cost a minimum of $550 a day to haul waste from the school, which currently serves about 230 students.

“What we’re proposing to do is being financially responsible, and it is a permanent fix, not a Band Aid,” Sudhoff said during the earlier meeting at the Samuel Everett School of Innovation. “It gets us completely out of the sewer business.”

At Thursday’s meeting in the BCS Central Office, school board members voted 6-0 to approve an agreement with the city and spend $52,000 this year from the district’s fund balance, the first of five annual payments. Board member Scott Helton was absent during the vote.

The Blount County Commission would need to approve both the agreement and BCS using the money from the fund balance, which is like a savings account.

Federal/local splitThis summer Friendsville received approval for a $440,885 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for the wastewater project. The grant requires a $424,115 local investment. BCS chipping in $260,000 will leave $164,115 for the city.

“We’re in the process of figuring out if we’re going to borrow it or take money out of the general fund,” Mayor Andy Lawhorn said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

With a little over $300,000 there, he said, “We don’t want to rob the general fund more than we have to.”

The new system will include about 4 miles of sewer lines and two pumping stations, one behind the school at a cost of about $100,000 and one near the Dollar General at a cost of about $75,000, according to Lawhorn. The wastewater will be pumped to Tellico Area Services System for treatment.

In addition to the school, the sewer lines will serve about 65 to 70 buildings in the city that currently are on septic systems.

City officials estimate the new sewer lines will save the school district about $1.5 million over 30 years, because BCS won’t have to replace the current treatment facility and pay $18,000 to $23,000 a year for maintenance. State law requires daily inspection of the system, school officials explained.

“We want the school to be there forever,” Lawhorn said of the school that just celebrated its centennial. “We love that school.”

Like other customers the school will pay a sewer fee, but Friendsville hasn’t set the rate yet. “We’re not getting into the sewer business to make money,” Lawhorn said, explaining that the rate will be based on costs to maintain the system.

The city hopes to begin laying pipe in the ground by the end of February, he said, and the grant requires the project to complete in 18 months. The school will be the last part of the project.

The federal funding came through 2018 Disaster Supplemental Funds, and according to an Economic Development Administration announcement, “rebuild the sewer system that was affected by a natural disaster within the region’s economically distressed and underserved communities.”

Asked about the reference to a natural disaster, Lawhorn said that if the treatment facility at the school failed that would be a disaster.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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