Letter: Variance denied

At the June 24 Pueblo West metro board meeting, three members voted against a variance requested by School District 70 and Whitlock Construction Co. In a newly constructed addition to Sierra Vista Elementary School, a common water line has been installed to deliver both drinking water and fire suppression water to the addition. Pueblo West building regulations require that two separate lines must be provided, one to supply drinking water, the other to store and discharge fire suppression water.

The variance applicants contended that Colorado state regulations allow for installation of a single line so long as it’s equipped with a backflow inhibitor to prevent stagnant water stored for fire suppression from leaking back into the drinking water. Why weren’t Pueblo West’s regulations followed in this case? Installation of water lines in all other Pueblo West District 70 schools has been done according to Pueblo West’s building regulations, why not this one? – asked board members Lew Quigley and Mark Carmel.

Highest and best standards, the state’s regulations, were followed and that’s what was done, the applicants answered. Whereupon, board president Quigley pointed out that local government has authority to write its own regulations, providing they’re not inferior. He stated that there are 500 kids at Sierra Vista Elementary, and Pueblo West’s regulations protect their health and safety. Those regulations have been followed in all other District 70 Schools in Pueblo West, because that’s the standard here, Carmel said.

To the argument that backflow inhibitors are safe, Quigley replied that Apollo 13 was supposed to be safe, the most sophisticated technology ever, and remember what happened there, he said. Moreover, it had earlier been testified by plumber James Maggard that backflow inhibitors are not entirely failsafe. Board member Carmel asked about a number of alternative installation options that might have been chosen. Back-and-forth discussion produced a plausible inference: that the option chosen had as much to do with avoiding metro district tap fees as anything else. Tap fees to provide a separate water line would cost around $60,000.


Board president Quigley argued that the metro board should not violate its own Pueblo West building standards. If our building standards are to be compromised or changed, it should only be by resolution to rewrite them, he said.

Nevertheless, board member Barbara Bernard made a motion to approval the variance. After some wrangling over an alternative motion and more discussion, a vote was taken. Board members Quigley, Carmel and Judy Leonard voted against Bernard’s motion – variance denied. After voting against the variance, Leonard said she thought more information should have been presented. For example, nothing had been seen or heard from School District 70’s board of directors.

Bill Clemens

Pueblo West

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