Plumbing issues cause variety of disruptions at WA


Srivas Arun

Fans were set up to make the smell more bearable on the first floor.

Srivas Arun, Co-News Editor

On May 19 at approximately 12:30 pm, contractors were using a piece of equipment to clear a clogged pipeline at WA when dust from the machine floated up to a nearby smoke detector and triggered the fire alarm.

Students and faculty followed fire evacuation procedures and exited the building upon hearing the alarm go off. Members of the Westford Fire Department arrived shortly after to ensure building safety while students and teachers waited in the parking lot.

After authorities deemed the building safe for re-entry, the contractors finished clearing the pipe and left for the day. Later it was found that the wrong pipe had been cleared, so the contractors returned and unclogged the correct pipe on Tuesday. However, WA was still not in the best shape after the event, as over the course of Tuesday, toilets began overflowing and sewage began to leak from the pipes.

It was only on Wednesday morning that the custodians found out that the problems with the overflowing toilets and leaking pipes were caused by unreleased pressure which remained in the pipes after unclogging them. The pressure left in the pipes prevented toilets from properly flushing and led to pipe leaks. 

Custodians managed to fix the problem by adjusting pipe covers. The leaks and the adjusting of the pipes led to pungent odors spreading throughout the bottom floor of the school.

Only adding to the delay of mending the pipes was the absence of head custodian Tom Griffin. Griffin broke his leg earlier in the year and custodians David Allen and Christopher Selway have taken charge of the custodial team while he recovers.

“[Mr. Allen and Mr. Selway] are both excellent. They’re hard workers. I think they just don’t have all the history [of the building],” Dean Dan Twomey said. “Mr. Griffin’s been doing this for a while now and he kind of knows the building very well […] that’s why you have those people. They know the building, they know all the pipes, they know where everything is. So, I think maybe that might have set it back a day.”

The issues of clogged pipes also worry administration about the types of items students have been flushing down toilets. Twomey said paper towels and vape cartridges were among the items that students flush which could cause serious problems in the pipes in the future. 

“[You need to] take care of the place and you clean up properly after yourself when you use the bathrooms,” Twomey said. “You treat it like any piece of equipment and room and building the way it’s supposed to be treated. I think that’s important.”

If problems with the pipes continue, Twomey also said that the situation could merit an investigation to find students who are causing the problem. 

“It’s caused a lot of damage and that was expensive […] calling that company in and [paying for the] contract is not cheap,” Twomey said.

The overflowing toilets and sewage led to disruptions in classrooms with many teachers having to open windows and close doors due to the smell. A possible early release or schedule change was even mentioned as a result of the issues.

Administration’s transparency with the situation has been helpful to many with announcements and emails to teachers.

For others, news of dust and foul odors sparked concerns of air quality and ventilation in the building. 

“A question I have in general is the air quality in the building, ” English teacher Meghan McCarthy said, ” […] I mean, that definitely didn’t help, but I wonder if there’s any way that we’re monitoring whether allergies are better here or worse than anywhere else?”

Students and teachers with allergies have especially struggled over the past few weeks due to dry conditions making the spread of pollen worse than usual for this time of year. For others, the building has provided a much needed sanctuary from the pollen filled outdoors. Freshman TJ Collamore has struggled with seasonal allergies for most of his life, but inadequate ventilation in the building has never caught his attention.

“I only have had bad allergy experiences outside the building. Inside the building I usually never experience bad allergy symptoms,” Collamore said.

Nevertheless, McCarthy pointed out that any improper ventilation could not have helped with allergies, and monitoring and improving air quality may aid with student allergies to both dust and pollen.

Although the situation led to some inconveniences for students and faculty in the building, most students and teachers understand that the issues were handled as well as possible, and their understanding does not go unnoticed.

“We appreciate everybody being patient as it all went down. Sometimes it’s just that’s the way things happen,” Twomey said. “But the issue should be resolved completely, so hopefully, that doesn’t happen [again] anytime soon. As long as people aren’t flushing things down to the toilet that don’t belong.”