HARVARD - With the Town Center sewer system slated to start up soon, local Realtor Rhonda Sprague and her client, Bob McGinty, one of the business partners involved in the recent purchase of the former Inn at 11 Fairbank Street, asked the Board of Health Tuesday night to grant a waiver that would allow the property to switch back to the old septic system if the new network the building is hooked up to fails to launch on schedule.

There are four condominiums in the building that were formerly subsidized rental apartments. When the Inn couldn't keep up the mortgage and the bank foreclosed, tenants were relocated and the building was sold at auction. The new owners renovated the units as condos.

Sprague later called them "small but beautiful," and said all four have been sold.

Now, they've got a purchase and sales agreement in hand for one of the units, with a Real Estate closing pending. There's $50,000 in an escrow account to cover sewer betterments and the only thing holding things up is lack of sewer service, Sprague and McGinty said. Thus, the waiver they asked the board to sign.

"We'd need more documentation," member Lorin Johnson said. For example, a condo association document that spells out who's responsible for the septic system, with escrow funding to back it up in case the Health Board has to step in.

"We're actually hooked up, the old connection is gone," McGinty said, explaining the need for the waiver.


The tank has been pumped out, as required for a pending switch-over to town sewer, but it hasn't been filled with sand yet, he said. The same pumping company is prepared to come back and pump the tank again if necessary, he said. That is, if the sewer system launch is delayed and the septic connection must be re-established.

But health agent Ira Grossman, of the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, strongly recommended against it. "I'd absolutely advise that you not sign this waiver," he said. "The system isn't there."

Chairman Tom Philippou said the go-to group wasn't his board but the Sewer Committee.

"You need a blessing from them," he said.

Sprague, who lives on Prospect Hill Road, said uncertainty about the new system worries others in the sewer district as well. "This is the first one ... nobody really knows what will happen," she said.

Johnson asked Grossman if an escrow of $1,000 or $2,000 would change his mind about the advisability of giving McGinty what he asked for, but Grossman said the number wasn't the point. "I'm very uncomfortable with it," he said.

After some discussion, the board declined to sign the waiver, which Philippou said was not intended for a situation like this. Instead, members agreed to meet again the following Tuesday if necessary and to let Maple Meadows know what documentation to bring.

In the meantime, the Sewer Committee was set to meet the next morning, presumably to give the system a green light. If so, the problem goes away, board members said.

Note: When the Sewer Commission met Wednesday morning, plans were on track to start up and test the new system, with the 11 Fairbanks St. property as the first hookup.

HES kindergarten wing

In 2005, the School Committee and the Board of Health signed a memo of understanding outlining plans for the elementary school kindergarten wing after a serious mold problem surfaced.

After pinpointing a couple of main causes, such as lack of ventilation in a crawl space beneath that part of the building and poor drainage in the parking lot, those problems were corrected. Other issues, such as gaps and spaces in the walls where dampness had accumulated, were not so easy to address. Surface mold was remediated and the walls were tightly sealed, encapsulating dormant mold spores that might be in there.

Short of gutting the K-wing, it was the most effective solution at the time, staving off a major renovation or rebuild for another 10 years, according to the document. During that time, the shell was to stay intact, with nothing done to disturb the envelope, not even nails driven into the walls. 

Now, with the oldest part of the building in serious need of upgrades, School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls and Superintendent Joseph Connelly came to the Health Board to update the MOU so that a structural study can be done to plan the best next step.

"This is just a courtesy visit," to sketch out the School Committee's thinking about this matter, Cheveralls said, adding that Connelly has been looking into options and that a request for funding for the study, which he termed a "longevity assessment," has been submitted to the Capital Planning and Investment Committee.

"Our concern is that the work that must be done -- short of "gutting" the old wing -- might release mold in the wall cavities, Connelly said.

At one time, the plan was to preserve the existing structure until a new one was built. Now, with declining enrollment, that would be a hard sell, Cheveralls said, and long-range plans call for a "needs-based purpose."

The question now is whether renovations such as new windows and other energy-efficient upgrades would disturb the sealed off mold.

Health board member Sharon McCarthy, who is an environmental scientist and served on the School Committee when the mold problem surfaced, asked what the committee would do in the K-wing if the mold were not there.

The to-do list includes replacing black boards with white boards and other work to make K-wing classrooms as modern and well equipped as the others in the elementary school building, Connelly said.

Basically, the board said go ahead, provided the work is done when school is not in session and proper precautions are taken during the process, including air-quality testing and remediation if necessary after the work is done.

Additionally, McCarthy suggested that when an RFP is sent out to contractors, one of the requirements should be that a mold expert is on board.

Cheveralls said nobody on the committee is qualified to follow up on that recommendation. "We wouldn't even know what questions to ask," he said, which is one reason they want to partner with the Board of Health as the makeover moves forward.

McCarthy, however, would. She agreed to ask colleagues to recommend someone who could work with the contractor hired to do the structural study.