New Clay Consolidated School Has A Stink


Clay County’s new $8 million Big Otter elementary school has smelled like sewage for over a year.

Big Otter was opened in 2007.

The sewage problem joins another big problem that has surfaced in new WV consolidated school construction, mold and air quality with HVAC systems inside buildings that windows cannot be opened.

Several parents have pulled their children from the Big Otter school, saying their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

They say county and state officials have refused to test the air quality.

Work has commenced to try and find the problem, with the school being closed at least one day.

Since the school opened in August 2007, the smell has repeatedly come and gone.

“It stinks like the dickens,” said Richard Morrison, who runs the school’s wastewater plant, “It smells like rotten eggs.”

Several school employees told the Charleston Daily Mail, they never or only rarely get a whiff of it.

Richmorr & Associates of Charleston submitted a report that blames part of the problem on BBL Carlton, one of the state’s largest contractors.

The report raises issues with nearly a dozen aspects of the school’s outdoor sewer system, including pipelines and manholes.


BBL allowed “amateurish construction practices” and “atrocious conditions apparently due to lack of oversight,” says the report.

Morrison concluded that BBL showed “almost no regard to the plans and specifications of the building” that were done by Charleston-based architectural firm ZMM.

BBL denies there are problems, saying all of the changes were approved and inspected by ZMM and the Clay County school system.

ZMM says it made “periodic visits” to the site, but can’t explain some of BBL’s work, including the decision to put part of the sewage system inside the school’s playground.

Clay Superintendent Larry Gillespie says there is a problem.

One theory for the cause is that part of the outdoor sewage system is leaking gas that the school’s roof-top heating, ventilating and air-conditioning unit is sucking back into the school, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.

BBL and its sub-contractors made several attempts to fix the problem, with one sub-contractor going to the school in April to make repairs to the indoor plumbing.

That visit was prompted by three complaints about odor on file at the Clay County health department.

“When you walked through the front door it was like a vacuum,” said Lesha Butcher. “It sucked the smell right in your face.”

Several parents say the odorous gas has caused their children to become ill.

County and state officials told parents at school board meetings that everything is safe and that the levels of sewer gas are very low, although air quality tests had not been conducted.

Clay superintendent Gillespie says he has now begun looking for someone to test the air quality.

“I’m trying to get an air test done right now to convince people I’m not putting their kids at risk,” he said.

The head of the state School Building Authority Dr. Mark Manchin said he had not known the extent of the problems in Big Otter until very recently.

“We’re not ready to say anybody has been faulty or hasn’t done their job appropriately,” Manchin said.

When former state schools Superintendent David Stewart retired, he immediately went to work with the architectural firm ZMM.

It was the same firm to which he and the WV School Building Authority issued numerous contracts, including Lincoln County’s $32 million plus school at Hamlin.