Former ASPE President, and longtime pme contributor, Julius Ballanco recently sent me a newspaper article.

Bob Miodonski

Former ASPE President, and longtime pme contributor, Julius Ballanco recently sent me a newspaper article, which recounts a remarkable situation that’s been occurring in Massachusetts for years. The article reports the state has not issued a new plumbing engineering license since 1998, even though a Massachusetts law requires a licensed plumbing engineer to sign off on plans for new school construction and other public plumbing projects.

But what could be more astonishing is the reason why the state has stopped issuing new licenses. When pressed by the newspaper for the reason, the state Board of Registration of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors answered that it voted in 1998 to no longer consider plumbing engineering a “fundamental branch of engineering.”

The article appears in the Sept. 20, 2012, edition of The Norwood Record under the byline of Co-Publisher Paul DiModica. His article reports his newspaper has spent almost a year to get this answer from the engineering board. During the same period, it’s been asking the Massachusetts School Building Authority why licensed plumbing engineers’ signatures are no longer being sought for new school plans.

As a reader of pme, you may well consider plumbing engineering to be a fundamental branch of engineering. The health and safety of schoolchildren, teachers and occupants of other types of buildings come to mind as reasons why you should.

The Norwood Record reports the state engineering board has renewed the plumbing engineering licenses of engineers issued before 1998. However, you apparently won’t find their signatures on plans for new schools going up in Massachusetts.

One of those schools is the new Norwood High School. The Norwood Record reports it is the first school built in the state using the Massachusetts State Model School Program. The new program is intended to reduce the amount of state aid given for new school construction by reusing the plans of previously designed schools.

“Templates being used across the state do not have plumbing engineering signatures, which means, at least according to some experts, that at least one school already built and future schools are not in compliance and the potential could exist for unsafe conditions,” DiModica writes.

Savings resulting from this “boilerplate” program can be substantial. In the case of Norwood High School, the price tag dropped by more than $30 million from an estimate of $100 million to $68.6 million, according to the article.

Still, those savings will prove to be a false economy if the plumbing system turns out to be unsafe or unhealthy.

The newspaper article cites the experience of two ASPE members who applied for a state plumbing engineering license and never received one. David DeBord, who sits on the ASPE national board, applied before the engineering board in 2002.   

“What they said was, ‘Frankly, we do not know why you are here. We do not know what a plumbing engineer does,’” he told me in an email.

Joseph Vela, past president of the Boston Chapter of ASPE, applied for his plumbing engineering license several years ago and has yet to receive it. He believes the board still should grant him a license and is helping to shine a spotlight on the situation in the state.

Now that we’re aware of it, we’ll keep our eye on the situation, too. We want to make sure plumbing engineers get the recognition they deserve for designing and approving safe systems. Further, Massachusetts should follow its own law to require the signature of a licensed plumbing engineer on plans for public plumbing systems.