ATHENS — Drilling is expected to begin this winter on property owned by the Athens Community School for a new water well to serve its 113 students and 27 teachers and support staff.

School officials say the school-owned well will give them control over their only source of water.

The school’s application to the state Department of Health and Human Services under the drinking water program was approved in May, and final public comment on the project was announced in December.

The school, part of Dexter-based Alternative Organizational Structure 94, qualified for a forgivable loan, or a grant of up to $50,000 for engineering services, contract labor, materials and legal fees associated with the new well. The Athens School Department is concerned the well currently supplying the school might in the future have a capacity issue, in that the well is on private property and serves five other businesses and homes in the downtown area, according to project documents.

Edward Ellis, one of three lead teachers at the school, said bids for the work have not yet been completed. He said the cost of the project will not be carried by local taxpayers.

“It’s not going to cost us a penny,” he said.

Athens is a teacher-led school that operates without a principal. Other lead teachers are Beverly Foss and Marian Spalding.

Teacher-led schools date back to the 19th century and one-room schoolhouses. The title “principal” is derived from “principal teacher,” often known today as a “lead teacher.”

“It’s very important to the school because it actually gives us control of the well,” Ellis said. “At the present time, with the well being on somebody else’s property, if we have a problem, we have to get permission to go into the building. To go on the property, we’d have to seek permission to go there, and that makes it hard when you’re trying to run a school.”

The well is located on property at 19 Main St. owned by the Franklin family. Peter Franklin operated the building, called Goods From The Woods, for many years.

The well also serves the Athens Corner Store. Co-owner Julie Jewell said they tied into the water system at Goods From The Woods several years ago after groundwater in the downtown area was found to have been contaminated by sulfur and petroleum.

The new well will be located on school property 175 feet from the nearest leach field and 180 feet from an underground storage tank. When drilled, the new well must have a minimum of 40 feet of well casing set into bedrock, according to project documents.

A minimum 48-hour pump test to verify a safe water yield is required. Final approval of the well will come after satisfactory water quality test results are in, along with a final site inspection for compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act.

The Athens school dropped out of Madison-based School Administrative District 59 in 2013 and joined AOS 94 the next year.

It has its own school board and its own annual budget. Kevin Jordan is superintendent of AOS 94, as he is at the Harmony school and School Administrative District 46 in Dexter.

Ellis said project engineers determined that it would be best if the well was drilled this winter while the ground is still frozen.

“Once the board has chosen the winning bidder on the well, they will clear the land around the site so the well-drilling rig can get in there,” he said. “They’re going to drill the well this winter and when the ground thaws in the spring, run the pipes and such to the school.”

Plans for an Athens Water District 12 years ago to address water problems in the downtown never materialized as an entity, according to the project documents.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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