Howland School District Taps Gordon's Expertise

Howland School District Taps Gordon’s Expertise

HOWLAND, Ohio – About two years ago, the Trumbull County Educational Service Center notified Howland Local School District that many school systems across the state had detected higher than normal levels of lead in their water. The service center advised that Howland test the water quality in all six of its buildings.

The results caught the attention of school officials.

“We found that we had lead levels that were much higher than they should have been,” says Keith Spicher, the school district operations supervisor.   “So, we started investigating what our possible options would be.”

The first option was to replace or repair the entire plumbing substructure in each building at a cost of an estimated $250,000 per building, Spicher says. Option two was to find some other way – any way – to resolve the problem without absorbing those onerous costs.

Although the school district wasn’t mandated to replace the system, work began almost immediately to address the situation, Spicher says.

After consulting with engineer Chris Marrone of CJL Engineering in Youngstown, the district arrived at a possible solution – bypass the old plumbing network with flexible PEX tubing and a sophisticated filtration system that would scour out the impurities found in the school drinking water. The engineering firm then contacted Gordon Bros. Water, Salem, to work with the school district and install the system.

“This was a really interesting project, one of the most interesting we’ve had,” says Ned Jones, chairman of the board at Gordon Bros. Water. Jones, with the company since 1966, says the system the company provided enabled the school district to drastically reduce project costs.

“We whittled away a $250,000 cost per building down to about $18,000 for all six buildings,” Spicher says. “It really worked out well. It took us about seven or eight months of collaboration, meetings, walking through the buildings and coming up with blueprints of what we wanted to accomplish.”

For the Howland Local School District, Gordon Bros. supplied dual point-of-use technologies for the project, Jones says. “In this situation, we used a filter technology for the water fountains and a reverse osmosis system for the kitchen,” he says. “The reverse osmosis system is more economical because you use a lot of water.”

Spicher says the company was able to run PEX lines – that is, polyethylene tubing – through the ceilings to newly installed water fountains in the hallways. All of these lines pass through a filtration system that cleanses the water before it reaches the fountains and any other potable water source in the district buildings. “It’s extremely easy to run,” he says. “It worked out very well.”

Along with a filtration system, larger reverse osmosis systems were installed in two of the six district buildings, Jones says. “It’s probably the most state-of-the art way of removing contaminants,” he says.

Reverse osmosis is a process in which water is filtered through a semi-permeable membrane under pressure that allows clean water molecules to pass, but not compounds such as lead, dissolved salts and bacteria. “It reduces the total dissolved solids,” Jones says.

Gordon Bros. was established in 1945 by Jones’ father-in-law, Lloyd Gordon, and supplies drinking filtration and water systems for both residential and commercial customers.

“The water-treatment industry actually started in the 1940s,” Jones says. Then, most of the business was geared toward water softening systems to treat well water that served those living in rural areas. “People in the city felt that they had pretty good water,” he says, “And 95% of our business then was well water treatment.”

Over the last decade or so, that paradigm has shifted in favor of treating municipal water. “Some of it is because of lead concerns,” Jones says.

Addressing the lead issue at Howland was a top priority for Kevin Spicher, superintendent for Howland schools and the twin brother of the district maintenance supervisor. “We knew that there were other school districts, not just across Ohio, but in other states who were having issues with lead in the water.”

As such, the Trumbull County Education Service Center alerted the school and suggested testing its water, he says. “We wanted to be proactive. Once we tested, we did have some results that we were concerned about. We hooked up with the local health department and municipalities to make sure we had the go-ahead to do what we wanted to do.”

Removing lead from the water system is especially critical for children in the elementary schools. “We want to make sure that if our students are consuming water that it’s the safest it could possibly be,” Spicher says.

The system in Howland was installed just more than a year ago, Spicher says, and the results from some preliminary tests are very good. “It’s ongoing testing,” he says, which constitutes a specified number of hours and gallons moving through the system that the school operations must manage. “As long as we’re doing that,” he says, “we know the numbers will stay where we need them to be, and that’s below a detectable level.”

In 1986, amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act banned the use of lead solder in potable water systems, Jones says. Unfortunately, there are miles of lines across the region installed before the 1980s that still contain lead solder found in plumbing joints. “It’s everywhere,” he says.

This was especially evident in places such as Flint, Michigan, where lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply of that city, potentially exposing 100,000 residents to unsafe drinking water. The crisis prompted the Obama administration to declare a state of emergency there in 2016.

In Howland schools, some of the old drinking fountains contained lead parts, and all of those were removed and replaced with entirely new water fountains, Jones says. “So many of the older faucets had lead in them. Today, when you purchase a new faucet, they say ‘lead free.’ ”

In addition to lead, water treatment plants use chlorine and other chemicals to scrub away natural contaminants, but traces of chlorine are still found in many municipal water supplies.

About 75% of business Gordon Bros. does is in the residential markets, Jones says, while 25% is with commercial customers. Among its top commercial clients in the area is Dunkin’ Donuts, he adds. “They now have very high-quality water,” he says.

A misconception is that installing a new water purification system is beyond the reach for most homeowners, Jones says. A reliable filtration system can be purchased and installed for about $400, he says.

Gordon Bros. plans to tap this market by establishing an operation in the Pittsburgh area, Jones says.

“We’re already in 20 Home Depot stores,” he says. Four of these retailers are local – Austintown, Niles, Boardman and Salem – and the other 16 are in the Pittsburgh region.

“Our business is growing and we’re excited,” he says.

Pictured: Keith Spicher, operations supervisor for the Howland district, and Ned Jones, chairman of Gordon Bros., stand in front of the middle school kitchen’s reverse osmosis system.

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