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Schools affected by drought

August 24, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

When students in McConnellsburg, Pa., go back to school today, their lunches will be served on paper plates.

By not running dishwashers, the water-conscious school district is going beyond statewide water-use restrictions imposed as a result of the ongoing drought.

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Most school districts in the Tri-State area will follow water conservation guidelines when students return to classes this week and next.

The most noticeable effects will be hardened athletic fields and dusty yellow school buses.

Central Fulton School District in McConnellsburg decided to go one step further because the community is experiencing a critical water shortage.

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"Right now every drop's going to count down the road. We just need everybody to watch and monitor," said Mahlon Shimer, chairman of the McConnellsburg Municipal Borough Water Authority.

The water level in the largest of three wells serving 1,000 customers has dropped to 116 feet from 195 feet in June. Even this past weekend's rain didn't alleviate the problem, Shimer said.

Conservation efforts have helped. JLG Industries is trucking in 30,000 gallons of water a day for its industrial operation and uses municipal water only for bathrooms and drinking fountains, he said.

Elsewhere in the Tri-State area, water supplies are low but not critical.

In Washington County, where most schools get water from the reliable Potomac River, athletic fields are being watered enough to keep them alive, said Yogi Martin, The Washington County Board of Education's supervisor of health education, physical education and athletics.

The county is using about half the water it would normally use.

The state of Maryland has restricted watering, with certain exceptions. Gov. Parris Glendening made a special exception for athletic fields, which would be costly to replace and dangerous for athletes.

It would cost about $700,000 to resod and reseed Washington County's seven playing fields, Martin said.

Recent rain showers have refreshed playing fields in the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District, said Superintendent Robert Mesaros.

"They're on the hard side, but coaches say it's not as bad as they thought," he said.

The only school grounds to be watered are part of the football field that was resodded and reseeded and newly planted trees between the middle and high schools, Mesaros said.

Mesaros theorizes that total water use may drop when school goes into session in the Waynesboro Area School District because schools use water more efficiently than homes.

"I can't prove that, but logically it makes sense," he said.

On the other hand, McConnellsburg's Shimer is bracing for an increase in water use when Central Fulton schools open today. In the summer, many of the district's 1,100 students didn't use public water because their homes have private wells.

"We're doing everything we can think to do," said Angela Marshall, district secretary for Central Fulton schools.

In nearby Southern Fulton School District, the water supply comes from private wells that seem to be in good shape, said Superintendent Carolyn Chegelski.

In many school districts, the drought means those big yellow school buses won't be sparkling.

Washington County hasn't washed its fleet since July and has asked independent contractors, which provide 40 percent of its buses, to refrain from washing the outside of the buses, said Director of Transportation Chris Carter.

The buses have been swept inside and the windows cleaned with glass cleaner, he said.

"They'll be clean for our students, but they won't be the spic and span shiny that we like to have," Carter said.

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