Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Walkersville schools cope quickly

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Tom Fedor⁄The Gazette
Walkersville High junior Michael Hellenthal grabs a cup of bottled water between classes Tuesday.
There’s a drinking fountain just outside Amy Graunke’s art classroom at Walkersville High School, but this week it was wrapped in plastic and covered with a sheet of paper warning, ‘‘Do not drink, do not use.”

The school’s only drinkable water this week is located in 2.5- and 5-gallon jugs in the cafeteria and near the front entrance – a hike from the art wing.

‘‘What are you going to do?” Graunke said on Tuesday, the second day of Walkersville High’s water lockdown.

A pair of manure spills into Glade Creek from Teabow Farms, north of Walkersville, has prompted water problems in the town of more than 5,600 residents, and it has affected the town’s four schools.

Graunke said that some of her students suggested that school should be closed this week, as the town works furiously to rid its water supply of farm filth, but Graunke tells them it’s better to cope with the situation now, rather than to make up the days in the summer.

‘‘It’s not going to just go away,” she said.

The contamination has caused only minor inconveniences to students and faculty at the high school, according to Principal David Kehne, who said he was informed of the situation over the weekend. Three county high school swim teams that use Walkersville High’s pool as their ‘‘home pool” — Linganore, Catoctin and Walkersville — have had to cancel events. Students taking gym class line up at jugs in the cafeteria for water breaks.

Students and faculty have uniformly taken the changes in stride, Kehne said.

‘‘Monday was exceptionally smooth,” he said. ‘‘Our students and staff cooperated, and we had a seamless first day.”

Kehne credited Frederick County Public Schools for an ‘‘excellent response” to the water situation. Before the first bell rang on Monday morning, jugs of potable water were set up. Sinks and drinking fountains were taped off. Bottles of hand-sanitizer were installed in restrooms, and portable hand-washing stations, for students working on messy art projects, for instance, were available.

Food preparation for Walkersville schools has been temporarily relocated to Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, Kehne said.

Tuesday’s first lunch period seemed to be running smoothly.

‘‘It’s definitely a novel change of events,” said senior Holly Kinnamont, 17. ‘‘It makes things exciting, but we want the water back, for sure.”

Holly, who lives in the Dearbought subdivision in Frederick, said her water at home is unaffected. Her friends who live in Walkersville have resorted to drinking bottled water, she said, and they haven’t been happy with the low water pressure in their showers.

‘‘People yesterday were freaking out about it, figuring out what they were going to do when they got home,” she said.

Senior Lindsay Chavez, 17, said she’s heard similar reports. Lindsay also said she’s personally unaffected by the water situation at home. ‘‘No one’s drinking any water,” she said.

This is the first time that Walkersville High has had to respond to such a situation, even though Walkersville had a major municipal sewage leak in 1999.

Media specialist Cindy Cunningham, who has worked at the school since 1998, said that spill happened during the summer and therefore schools were unaffected. ‘‘We did not have to do all the things that we’re doing now,” she said.