School board to vote on remediation in October

The town's remediation plan for contaminated soil at Greenwich High School has construction slated to begin in summer 2014. — Paul Silverfarb photo

The town’s remediation plan for contaminated soil at Greenwich High School has construction slated to begin in summer 2014.
— Paul Silverfarb photo

With the Board of Education poised to give its blessing next month, the town offered a briefing last week on a remediation plan to deal with contaminated soil at Greenwich High School.

Town Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert first unveiled the remediation plan, which is set to have specific areas ranging from one foot to three feet of soil removed from the campus, earlier this month. Last Thursday, she brought the plan directly to the board members at their work session, answering questions and explaining the town’s thinking. She couldn’t guarantee that the project would start next summer, but indicated she was hopeful the needed federal approvals would be granted in time.

Malcolm Beeler, a project manager for AECOM, the outside firm brought in by the town to help develop and supervise the remediation, joined Ms. Siebert for the meeting with the board and stressed that the plan would be “highly protective of human health and the environment” while also complying with all local, state and federal regulations.

“Essentially we are using existing barriers and creating new barriers at the site to prevent exposure to the impacted soil at the property,” Mr. Beeler said. “The existing barriers are the asphalt paved areas and the artificial turf fields. Those are situations where you have existing cover material and then clean materials beneath it that provide sufficient protection for those who might walk across them or use the parking lot or play athletics.”

Mr. Beeler said that new barriers will be constructed around the areas of the contaminated soil that is “at or near the surface.” That’s where the soil will be removed and replace with clean fill. While there’s no confirmed cause for the contamination, it has long been speculated that it was because bad fill was used during the school’s initial construction more than 40 years ago.

“We think we have a pretty good plan here,” Ms. Siebert said.

In a coincidental twist, this discussion before the Board of Education took place the same day GHS Headmaster Christopher Winters sent home letters to all parents informing them of skin rashes that had developed on some student athletes. He told the Post last week, though, that there is thought to be no link between the rashes and the contaminated soil. This past weekend professional cleaners were brought in by the school to clean the athletic areas as well as the equipment. Students were also told to wash their uniforms to attempt to deal with the issue.

After the contamination was discovered two years ago, temporary remediation measures were approved to allow for the fields to continue to be used for school and town athletics.

Before this permanent remediation plan can go forward, it needs the approval of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A 30-day comment period where residents can speak about the plan is scheduled to end on Oct. 5 and after that the plan will be formally submitted to the agency in its final form and it will then be a matter of working with the EPA on getting it reviewed. Ms. Siebert has said it’s her hope that the project will be approved by the spring so that the town can go out to bid on it and be ready to begin work as soon as possible when school ends in June 2014.

As of last week there had only been one public comment formally received about the plan and, until the deadline, comments will be accepted online at Greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=10915 .

The current plan is for this to take place over the next two summers, with an estimated 60% of the work happening in 2014 where the areas around the west parking lot are addressed as well as parts of the southeast corner. However, with potential delays possible for any project, particularly with deadlines to stop work in time for school to start without interference, it’s possible the project could take place over three summers.

“We’re not in control of everything that happens but we will work to get it done,” Mr. Beeler said.

The final cost of the project, which will have to be accounted for in next year’s budget, is unknown at this time. Ms. Siebert estimated it would be in the $13- to $17-million range, a reduction from a $13- to $20-million range initially forecast, and said she hoped it “would come in closer to the lower end,” but nothing was set yet.

“We’re going to make sure we go in and get everything so we can do this right,” Ms. Siebert said.

Mr. Beeler said the plan was developed not only to take the health of students into account but also that of GHS staff, visitors and the indoor and outdoor maintenance workers. That means that during the 2014 and 2015 summer breaks, use of the school will be very limited, with all student activities, including summer school, moved to other locations in town. However, there will be ongoing maintenance at the school during this time as well as the construction on the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project, and steps will be taken to allow the latter without restriction.

“It’s very important that we maintain site controls for several reasons, safety being paramount,” Mr. Beeler said. “We also have short time frames so we need to have a high level of control. We will only be working during summer breaks. We will not be falling into the school period. … We’re going to limit access to the campus during the summer break only. That’s so we can have the control we need.”

There will also be strict patterns of trucks going in and out of the site during this time, according to Mr. Beeler, who compared it to maintaining air traffic control patterns. He pledged that there would be three levels of air monitoring of the site during the work to make sure that contaminated dust isn’t escaping, as well as sediment and erosion control to prevent storm water runoff. Mr. Beeler also promised there would be regular inspections and any problems would be addressed.

“There will be quite a bit of site control,” Mr. Beeler said, adding there would now be deed restrictions once the remediation is done so future generations would know what happened on the land and work accordingly. This would not be a ban on future construction, he said, but rather a reminder to “be careful.”

He noted that this work will also allow for improvements to be made at the GHS fields including increasing accessibility for the handicapped and the addition of water fountains. Board member Adriana Ospina asked if it was possible to address longtime complaints about not having additional bathrooms at the site, but she was told it wasn’t practical to do it now with Ms. Siebert calling it a “very significant complicating factor” for what was “really a glorified maintenance project.”

The location of summer school is one of the board’s bigger concerns going forward. Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said Thursday that it had not been finalized yet, but Central Middle School was a possible location.

The board is scheduled to vote on the plan at its Oct. 24 meeting after hearing additional public comment. The board does not have final say since it’s a town decision, but a positive vote would be seen as a welcome endorsement.

 

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