Norwood, SCS tackle school’s sewage smell

Published 7:57 pm Friday, August 10, 2018

During its meeting on Tuesday evening, the Stanly County school board heard a report on efforts made to combat a reoccurring issue of sewage smells in Norwood Elementary School.

John Mullis, administrator for the town of Norwood, said the town has done work on the sewer lines near the school over the summer to address the issue of the smell of sewage at the school.

Mullis, who said he has state certifications in wastewater and wastewater collections, worked with others on the issue.

“As you know, there have been random and mysterious odors that’s appeared in the lower section of Norwood Elementary, and the pattern doesn’t seem to fit in any particular box,” Mullis said. “So, I wanted to see if I could help and use the resources of the town of Norwood to see if we could help.”

The team used a camera and smoke testing device on the lines as it searched for the root of the problem.

“We went under the school and looked at the plumbing and it’s all brand-new,” Mullis said.

“It’s in beautiful shape. We smoked the interior of the waste lines. We jetted all the sewer lines around that the town has that connect to the school, both on College Street and on Main Street. We also were looking for the taps that come in from the gym side of the school as well as the one tap that is the main lead into the one manhole at the school.”

The town cleaned lines, did smoke testing, cleaned manholes within several hundred feet of the school, confirmed the main stack pipe was unblocked, used cameras to inspect lines and replaced a vented manhole near the school with a solid one to help contain smells.

The camera inspection showed “minor buildup” of grease, but Mullis said while it may have been a “contributing factor,” the lines were otherwise clean.

No smoke was observed in the school during the test to reveal any issues with the lines. The nearest the smoke was visible was four buildings away, close to Dollar General, Mullis said.

Each summer, Mullis said the town will clean sewer lines connecting to the school.
Mullis said the task was a group effort.

“Experts from Rural Water were involved, local engineers, town staff of Norwood, vendor partners, as well as (superintendent) Dr. James and (schools maintenance director) Todd Bowers.”

He praised Bowers’ and the school system’s work on the problem.

“Mr. Bowers has done a very good job for the school in trying to identify this problem, and it is like a needle in the haystack: you have to just find that right opportunity of when the odor is present before you can find anything,” Mullis said.

Mullis said while he hopes the issue is resolved, he did note that vent stacks on the roof of the school are placed near doors and windows by which smells can easily waft into the building.

When the school’s heat or air conditioner is used, it creates a negative pressure in the school that can suck odors in, Mullis said. Some door and window seals may not fully prevent the odors.

If the smells start again, Mullis asked the school to call him as quickly as possible so the town can investigate.

“The town of Norwood is committed,” Mullis said. “If it shows up again, we’ll be there to help resolve it.”

Superintendent comments

Superintendent Jeff James said his office received notice Tuesday that the school system has been awarded $1.2 million for a grant designed to use with an after-school program the school is working with. It will help 250 children after school for three years, he said.

The schools applied for about $15 million in grants, but haven’t heard responses from others.

“I’m hoping for millions more to come in,” he said.

James also said that a move by the state helped to save the jobs of local teachers.

“Superintendents across the state, noting again this year that we have a teacher shortage, had grave concerns about the testing that North Carolina has implemented to put teachers through the licensure process,” James said, adding the tests are harder than before and the pass rate has “dropped substantially.”

James said due to a teacher shortage, the state granted a one-year reprieve that will assist six teachers that Stanly may have otherwise lost. James committed to helping the teachers with tutoring and resources to make sure they are able to pass.

“It shouldn’t be an impediment for them to be able to teach our children. It’s just another obstacle that’s been put in their path that we need to help them overcome,” James said. “I don’t think it has any effect on their credentialing or how well they teach in the classroom. It’s just a huge hurdle that’s been put in the way and the rigor of the test has just grown significantly, and unfortunately our colleges weren’t prepared to prepare them ahead of time, so it was kind of dropped on us.”

The reprieve may save the jobs of thousands of teachers in the state, James noted.


The board unanimously passed multiple policies, many of which had been tabled for 60 days. (The motion at the June meeting had been to table them for 30 days, but there was no regular July board meeting.)

The policies included ones on substance abuse prevention education, the code of student conduct, the schools complaint form and more.

Newer policies were also passed, including changes to the attendance policy, which board member Patty Crump said are intended to make the attendance policy more similar between the schools.

During the time for the superintendent’s comments, James told the board how pleased he is with the direction the school system is going.

“We are going to be the best location for an education in Stanly County, I’ll guarantee you,” he said. “You cannot do better than what we’re going to do.”

He later added, “There are a lot of great things going on academically, and the public seems excited.”

The board went into closed session at the end of the meeting. No comment was made or action taken before the meeting was adjourned.

The next regular board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 4.

Imari Scarbrough is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News and Press.