Fort Lewis College board members on Friday debated a distressing report that suggests the water and sewage systems at the Old Fort property near Hesperus are in severe disrepair and a potential risk to health and safety.
FLC has leased the historic 6,279-acre Old Fort property since 2010, when Colorado State University pulled out of its lease. FLC commissioned Goff Engineering & Surveying to assess the Old Fort’s structural integrity.
Wayne Kjonaas, director of FLC’s physical plant services, said that last year Goff warned that the Old Fort’s water and sewage systems were deficient, at which point the college put up signs forbidding Old Fort students and residents from drinking the water.
Russell Planning & Engineering began its study of the Old Fort’s water and sewage systems in May, according to Bill Frownfelter, senior project manager with Russell. It found that the water is contaminated with fecal coliform – a bacteria that, while usually harmless, can indicate the presence of other fecal matter, specifically E. coli, as well as other pathogens.
Russell’s report, which board members received Thursday evening, determined that the Old Fort’s water system required overhauling, noting that the chlorination system was neither connected to the water system nor in working order, the pump was old and inadequate, corrosion had caused even the structural steel to deteriorate, the existing pressure tank “could fail at any time,” and the building’s electric system “needs complete replacement.”
Russell’s report said the cost of replacing the electrical system and pressure tank and of installing filtration and chlorination systems within the existing building would come to over $86,000, and “this is a bare bones option, only doing what is absolutely necessary to bring the system into compliance.”
“Ideally, the existing building and equipment should be abandoned,” with a new treatment and pump building erected in the central campus, Kelly Fearney, Russell project engineer, said at the board meeting. Though Russell estimated this would cost between $213,000 and $369,000, its report advised that this would be “the lowest cost option over the long term.”
Russell Planning furthermore found that the Old Fort’s sewage system did not comply with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations. Currently, waste is discharged into a great lagoon, but the lagoon’s lining – which engineers suspect to be clay – “is no longer water tight,” allowing liquid waste to leak out of the lagoon and causing possible groundwater contamination.
Russell’s report estimated fixing the sewage system would cost anywhere between $111,845 and $216,423.
Board members’ reactions ranged from dismay to shock at the price of solutions. Heidi Baskfield worried that if FLC didn’t pony up the money quickly, in light of the report, the college would be liable for any harm caused to students and residents by the Old Fort’s water and sewage systems.
FLC Vice President Steve Schwartz marveled that adopting a short-term measure to fix the water system – the “Band-Aid” strategy – would be exorbitant.
Board member Peter Decker said via teleconference, “It’s a huge commitment. It puts us on track almost to build a second campus – I don’t think we have the money or the time to do this, and it certainly isn’t part of our strategic plan.”
As the conversation progressed, Decker even suggested disavowing the Old Fort. “I recognize that we have some commitment to the tuition waiver,” Decker said. “But I don’t see what we have to do with the Old Fort campus.”
Baskfield swiftly dismissed this, defending FLC’s tie to the Old Fort as critical to its historic commitment to the tuition waiver, which grants Native American students free tuition at FLC and dates back to 1911.
The college leases the Old Fort from the State Land Board, which manages land in state trust to generate revenue for public education.
By the meeting’s end, it was still unclear which institution was liable for the cost of repairing the Old Fort’s water and sewage systems.
FLC President Dene Kay Thomas reassured the board: “We’re taking very fast action on the information Russell provided to us.”