Matter of trust

FI-EditorialThroughout the discussion about how to deal with the contaminated soil at Greenwich High School, there has been a lot of focus on cost. But this is about more than that. It’s also about trust.

As a town, there is an awful lot of faith being placed in the Board of Education to make the right decisions and for the outside consultants at AECOM to come in and do the job correctly with no lingering issues remaining for future generations to deal with. There is no reason right now to believe that trust is being misplaced or that the town has not been given the whole story, but this is still a situation where, after an option is chosen, the town is essentially left crossing its fingers and hoping everything is going to be all right.

Every indication from every test is that the fields at Greenwich High School are safe to play on and the air is clean and the water has not been contaminated. But when it comes to children and the possibility of illness from exposure to the PCBs in the soil, how can anyone be comfortable? Even the slimmest of nagging doubts can be too much, because no one wants to be staring at this 10 years down the line and seeing a cancer cluster.

At the same time, panicking is just as bad as not worrying at all. This contamination has likely been in the ground for decades, ever since GHS was first built, thanks to poor fill used because it was there, it was cheap and no one knew any better. (And for anyone still doubting that government can serve a vital purpose and that regulations are there for a reason, remember that if an Environmental Protection Agency had been in place when the school was built, that fill never would have been used and Greenwich would not be having this problem.) In all of this time there has not been any sign of serious impact, so there is no need for some of the more extreme ideas to be implemented.

So the time has come to take ideas like scrapping the site entirely and building an totally new GHS off the table. Unless there’s something that the residents don’t know yet, that would be impractical, expensive and unnecessary. No one needs to pull up stakes and get out.

But there needs to be clear and thorough communication with the residents about what is happening here. That appears to be what’s going on now, and there have been no signs the Board of Education is covering things up, but so much trust is being placed in the board right now that to not have that trust met with the absolute truth would be (with no exaggeration) calamitous.

The town has to believe it is getting the absolute truth from the elected representatives on the Board of Education, the superintendent and cabinet and the outside consultants being brought in for this job (all of whom are being paid by taxpayer money). There’s no need for anyone to think things are worse than they are or simply assume the town is being lied to because people in charge always cover things up (something we’ve had unfortunately drilled into our heads over the years), but there needs to be evidence that the trust of the people is not misplaced.

This is not an easy subject to communicate on. Sometimes the sheer volume of information makes people (including those at this newspaper) feel you need advanced degrees in science and engineering to understand it. So it is up to the Board of Education to continue to insure that the most accurate and best information is out there in the clearest way.

There’s been a lot of worry about cost, but the biggest focus should continue to be doing this right and making sure that it does not come back as an issue again. We are trusting the board and the administration to do that and the town government to support them. But they can’t let us down.

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