Central, Complex to start double sessions Tuesday Double session schedule Staff start times

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ST. THOMAS - After two weeks of unanswered questions about the noxious odor at Central High School, government officials gathered at Government House on St. Thomas on Friday to provide a temporary path forward.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. opened by explaining why the event was held on St. Thomas rather than St. Croix. He said the Education commissioner and superintendents were scheduled to testify at the special Senate session on St. Thomas on Friday morning, so the press conference was held on St. Thomas to allow Education officials to participate in both events.

After many tests and inspections, officials said they believe the smell is caused by higher than normal levels of hydrogen sulfide in the sewer lines that run under the school campus.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, hydrogen sulfide can be produced by the bacterial breakdown of organic materials and human and animal wastes, and it is sometimes called sewer gas.

Until the problem can be adequately fixed, Central students and teachers will operate out of St. Croix Educational Complex in a double session system.

V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes said when the first complaints arose in mid-February, the department tested for common chemical compounds like carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide - but found no significant levels, Barnes said.

DPNR did site inspections at HOVENSA and Diageo to ensure the smell was not coming from those operations, she said. The DPNR team issued a cease and desist order to HOVENSA for a tank cleaning project, but after further review allowed the refinery to resume the cleaning.

The complaints are localized to the school and residents in the nearby community are not making the same reports of bad smells, she said.

Teams went onto the campus searching for the cause, focusing on storm drains, sewer lines, gas tanks and anything that could be the source of the smell, according to Barnes.

The problem climaxed March 18 when 35 students and one adult were sent to the hospital complaining of symptoms ranging from fainting spells and vomiting to rapid breathing and heart rates, dizziness, headache, nausea, altered mental status and involuntary movements.

After that, the school was shut down and the local government asked for federal assistance. The Environmental Protection Agency brought in three on-scene coordinators to work on the investigation and support local agencies.

Barnes said when they detected high levels of hydrogen sulfide at several manholes in the area, they asked some of the victims if it was the same smell that made them sick. They confirmed it was, she said.

The gas smells like rotten eggs, according to Barnes.

DPNR brought in the V.I. Waste Management Authority to inspect all the lines and equipment in the area. The agency conducted dye tests and flow tests to determine the flow pathway of the sewage, Waste Management Authority Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said.

Waste Management has also been flushing the lines and looking for blockages. One of the manholes was found to be littered with old, loose bricks. Crews crawled inside to remove them, Cornwall said.

While the agency normally treats the pump stations with chemicals to deodorize the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, they also will introduce certain chemicals to neutralize the odor, Cornwall said.

"These efforts are expected to be completed by mid-week, next week, and if successful, will return the system to normal operating conditions," Cornwall said.

Cornwall said a capital project is already in the works to relocate the Barren Spot pump station. The project is funded by a federal EPA grant, she said. The project currently requires an environmental assessment report before permits will be awarded.

Waste Management Authority is working with DPNR to take the odor control mechanisms that would have been installed in the new pump station, and install it in the old one as a temporary measure until the new station is ready to come online, Cornwall said.

Cornwall said the authority is also in the process of identifying funding to upgrade the existing manholes and sewer lines in the area.

In the course of the testing and site inspections, DPNR teams discovered gas leaks at the nearby Herbert Grigg Home, Barnes said. Those leaks have been fixed, she said.

The investigators also found condemned propane gas lines at Central High School, Barnes said.

DPNR is now in the process of properly decommissioning the lines, which will ultimately be removed, she said.

A condemned waste water system was also found at Central High School, which is in the evaluation process. Barnes said they are trying to find out if it is connected to any of the operating sewer lines.

While the government is finalizing the testing and addressing the problem as best it can, students must return to class, Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said.

Starting Tuesday, Central students will attend double sessions at Complex.

She said the department is prepared to continue the double sessions through the end of the school year if needed. It will not affect the Central High School seniors from graduating, nor will it impact accreditation, Frett-Gregory said.

She said she will be working with the unions to make up the missed days of instruction.

St. Croix Public School Superintendent Gary Molloy said they will be using 70 minute class periods, with Complex students attending school from 7:30 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. and Central High students attending from 1 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.

Some of the special education students will be assigned to Woodson Junior High School so that they can keep the normal school schedule.

Four new bus stops have been added to help students who would normally walk to Central get to the Complex campus.

Frett-Gregory asked V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Elton Lewis to review the emergency management plans for Complex ahead of the double session.

Lewis said the plan is solid. He said he met with first responders to brief them and look at all contingencies should there be an emergency at the school.

Today, VITEMA, Education and other government officials will do a walk through of the campus as a final check of the emergency plan. VITEMA will also lead a table top exercise to ensure Education officials and first responders are clear on how an emergency at the school would be handled, Lewis said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

Beginning Tuesday, students at Educational Complex and Central High School will share the Complex campus. The class schedule will be:

Complex students

7 a.m. - Arrival for breakfast

7:30 to 8:40 a.m. - first period

8:45 to 9:55 a.m. - second period

10 to 11:10 a.m. - third period

11:15 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. - fourth period

12:25 p.m. - grab-and-go lunch

12:30 p.m. - dismissal

Central students

12:25 p.m. - Arrival

12:30 p.m. - Lunch

1 to 2:10 p.m. - first period

2:15 to 3:25 p.m. - second period

3:30 to 4:40 p.m. - third period

4:45 to 5:55 p.m. - fourth period

6 p.m. - grab-and-go snack and dismissal

Special education students

- Central special education students in SIE program will be on their original 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. school schedule at John H. Woodson Junior High School. The special education students with the Mod 2 and Mod IV will be on the double session schedule at Complex.

CTEC, JROTC, and OJT students

- Complex CTEC students will attend to their CTEC class within their school hours - 7:30 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.

- Central CTEC students will attend their third and fourth periods within the Complex school hours - 10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.

- Central CTEC students in the third and fourth periods will have a different school time. They will begin at 10 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m.

- Central CTEC students will attend their first period CTEC class during Central first period - 1 to 2:05 p.m.

- Complex JROTC students will attend their fourth period JROTC class within their school hours - 11:15 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.

- Central JROTC students will attend their fourth period JROTC class within the Complex school hours - 11:15 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.

- Central JROTC students in the fourth period will have a different school day. They will begin at 11:15 a.m. and end at 4:40 p.m.

Complex staff

6 a.m. - Kitchen and custodial staff

7 a.m. - Administrators, monitors and office staff

7:10 a.m. - Teachers, counselors, nurses, paraprofessionals and librarians

Central staff

10:30 a.m. - Kitchen staff

Noon - Administrators, monitors and office staff

12:30 p.m. - Custodial staff

12:40 p.m. - Teachers, counselors, nurses, paraprofessionals and librarians

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