By Chris Collins
The Baker School District is going the extra mile and paying the extra dollar to ensure that its students have safe drinking water.
The district has decided to install an ultraviolet treatment unit at the source of city water entering each Baker City school building at a cost of $56,332, said Doug Dalton, the district's chief executive officer and business manager.
The money will come from the district's capital projects fund, which is set aside to pay for building maintenance and emergency issues, such as failure of a building's heating system or, in this case, a water quality issue.
The Baker School Board authorized the expenditure during its Aug. 20 meeting.
Dalton said district administrators met with representatives of the state Health Division and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when they visited Baker City last week to learn more about the cryptosporidium outbreak in the city's water system. As many as 1,000 people became ill.
Community residents were instructed to boil their water, an order that was lifted Aug. 20 after water testing found no evidence of cryptosporidium in the city's water system.
Because the water has been determined crypto-free at this point, Dalton said the most important focus as school starts is to work to prevent person-to-person spread of the illness that can be transmitted from those who are carrying the parasite.
Health officials have said that proper hygiene practices are the best way to keep residents healthy. And to achieve that, district staff will spend time as school begins Sept. 3 reviewing with students.
"We are going to focus the first day or two reteaching proper handwashing and why it's necessary," Dalton said.
The janitorial and maintenance staff also will be making an extra effort to wipe and clean door knobs, handles and surfaces in all Baker City schools to help curtail the spread of cryptosporidiosis and other illnesses.
Dalton said the visiting team of state and federal officials gave the district an A-plus for its plans and efforts.
"We've fine-tuned what we're already doing," he said.
Superintendent Walt Wegener said today that the plan is for the system to be in place for the first day of classes.
"We have been given cautiously optimistic reports it will be ready to go on Sept. 3," Wegener said. "We will have a Plan B if necessary."
That plan would include providing bottled water for all students and staff, he said.
The district opted for the ultraviolet system instead of installing filters at each school because of the design of the buildings and the space available for installation, the school administrators said.