Port-a-potties were brought in and situated outside of doors with easy access to the gymnasiums and pool. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School and Philomath Academy classrooms will be shut down on Tuesday because of a sewer system problem, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday announced on Monday.

“Today, they were starting to notice some things in the forestry facility — and that’s the lowest base of anything,” Halliday said. “And so, that was reason enough to be able to call in the city to see what they could do and then to call in a septic service to be able to say, ‘what can we do or what do we need to do long term, short term?’”

A&B Septic out of Albany was on campus Monday afternoon with a truck and hose clearing out lines. One source on site said Hughes Excavating was also planning to do work on Tuesday.

“With no restrooms available and a high school full of kids and staff, we just said, ‘we’ve got to shut it down for a day for health and safety reasons,’” Halliday said. “The plan right now is that they’ll be back to school on Wednesday. We just didn’t want to risk any sewage backup until the septic service had the chance to get in and do their thing.”

After-school activities, such as practices for PHS sports teams, were going on Monday with port-a-potties situated outside of the building near the swimming pool.

Halliday said that as of Monday afternoon, the swim meet against Junction City scheduled for Tuesday was to go on as planned and the other sports programs were expected to have practices.

The school district has been aware of sewer system-related issues.

“We have known for a while that there have been some concerns that we had hoped we could delay until spring or summer to be able to do some fixes with the sewage,” Halliday said. “This could be a short-term solution and it could be that this buys us a couple of days and in the next two weeks while everybody’s on vacation, maybe it’s an opportunity to solve a larger problem. I just don’t know that yet.”

As Halliday said, the forestry program’s building, which stands independent of the main school building, was the first to notice issues.

“I think they were noticing that things weren’t flushing as they ought to and were seeing something similar to a backup and put in a work order with facilities and that triggered (facilities director) Joey (DiGiovannangelo) enough to be able to take a look at it and say, ‘OK, the potential is there for some bigger issues so let’s deal with it.’”

A&B Septic clears out sewer lines on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Blodgett School likely out rest of week

In other school cancellation news, Blodgett Elementary, which serves students in K-4, appears to be canceled for the rest of the week, Halliday said. Illness has hit that student population hard.

“They had 16 absences out of the 27 (students enrolled), so they’re down over 50%,” Halliday said.

Earlier Monday, the school had planned to keep operating but the situation was reassessed with Halliday hearing from Blodgett officials, “‘We’ve got kids continuing to get sick and it’s just going to get worse instead of better,’ so we’re just going to shut them down.”

So far, the district has avoided high callout numbers with staff, which is a good thing considering limited numbers with available substitute teachers.

“The teachers right now seem to be holding their own but something we’re watching all the way across the district is where we’re at with substitutes,” Halliday said.

Kings Valley Charter School canceled in-person classes from Tuesday through Friday last week.

“They had 35% of their kids out on Monday last week and they turned around and did some distance learning kinds of activities,” Halliday said. “But apart from having that many students out, they had no substitutes and they only had one bus driver without a fever.”

It’s a situation that Philomath schools could see at their campuses.

“Those are things that we’re watching for here, too, and that is to say, when is the max point when we don’t have enough staff or we can’t get substitutes or the bus system is messed up because of people who are ill — those kinds of things,” Halliday said. “We’re just watching that as close as we can.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.