Springs School Wins $1.33 Million Grant for Septic Upgrade

Last August, the Springs School District repaired and replaced 12 leaching pools as part of a fix meant to keep its outdated wastewater treatment system operational through 2019. Judy D’Mello

The Springs School will receive $1.33 million in New York State grant money to install a new nitrogen-reducing wastewater treatment system, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office announced on Monday.

"We're ecstatic. This is huge for Springs," Debra Winter, the district's superintendent, said on Tuesday.

The school's aging septic system, installed in the 1970s to serve just 300 people (there are now some 900 students, teachers, and staff at the school), was deemed outdated and failing in 2015 and broke down in April 2017. For months after that the district had it pumped every 10 days, but last August contractors unearthed the system's 12 leaching pools and repaired or replaced them and the system's pumps in a fix expected to be functional through 2019.

Despite widespread acknowledgement that the failing system was affecting nearby waterways, the district's bid for a State Department of Environmental Conservation grant to upgrade to an innovative nitrogen-reducing wastewater treatment system was denied earlier this year.

A $16.9 million bond approved by Springs voters in March for the expansion and renovation of the school included $800,000 to upgrade the septic system. "We promised the community that this would be a priority even before we built a building," Ms. Winter said.

Though a portion of the bond was earmarked for the project, officials at the town, county, and state level were working with the district to find alternate funding.

Ms. Winter credited Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, and Kim Shaw, East Hampton Town's natural resources director, among others, with helping to plead the district's case at the state level, but said the announcement of the award on Monday came as a total surprise.

The grant will be funded through the governor's $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017.

"These upgrades will help to decrease nitrogen and bacteria contributions to Pussy's Pond and Accabonac Harbor while also benefiting the overall health of Long Island's groundwater aquifer," according to a release from the governor's office. "This project will use advanced nitrogen treatment, and is expected to reduce nitrogen concentrations by up to 94 percent."

"We will probably be the first municipality, and definitely the first school district, in Suffolk County to have this nitrogen-reducing system," Ms. Winter said on Tuesday. "It's a little scary to be the first one out, and I really do want us to do our homework and make sure . . . that whatever we do is going to work for our school and our community and our environment."

The district was already in the process of submitting plans to the Suffolk County Health Department, she said. She expects to be able to break ground on the new system by next summer.