Soil testing resumes at Greenwich High School

Just days after school let out for the summer, the Department of Public Works is looking for answers to determine just how widespread the contamination at Greenwich High School is.

Last summer, work on the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project led to the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other heavy metals in the GHS soil, necessitating the closure of the school’s fields until it was determined they were safe for use. Now the Department of Public Works (DPW) is back and has temporarily closed off access to the school’s artificial turf fields to be able to conduct the testing they’ve wanted to do for months to determine further how much contamination there is in the soil and how far it stretches.

DPW Commissioner Amy Siebert told the Post this week that tests began on fields three, four, six and seven on Monday and that the turf is being pulled up to allow for the soil to be examined. Due to the disruption this would have caused at the school and particularly to the athletic department, the testing was deferred until now as testing was conducted on all the other fields.

“We’re going to take full advantage of the summer and get this completed as quickly as we can,” Ms. Siebert said. “I can’t guarantee yet we’re going to be done as quickly as we want, but we want to be able to flesh out the picture we have much, much more to have a more accurate and complete finding about what we’re dealing with.”

There is no indication yet as to how the fields became contaminated, but over the course of the last year there has been much speculation that the problem dates back more than four decades to when the school was first constructed in 1969 and fill was used to make the formerly swamp area the school was built upon usable. The fill itself could have been contaminated at the time it was used.

The tests being conducted right now are critical because they will not only give information as to the full scope of the contamination, but also about how much it will cost to fully remediate the fields. GHS currently is operating under a plan approved by the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the fields are safe for use and present no health risk. However the contamination is still there and the DEEP and EPA will need to approve a full remediation for the site that will be extensive and, very likely, expensive.

No work is expected to happen on the MISA construction this summer. Joe Ross, chairman of the project’s building committee, told the Post on Tuesday that he is hopeful there will be approvals for the project to go forward from the EPA in the “near future” to allow him to put things out to bid. Once those bids are received he can go to the BET for release of funds for the construction so work can begin. He estimated all of this will likely happen in the “late fall.”

Ms. Siebert said that summer tests are actually better for repairs than it would have been to try and do the tests in the fall or winter. She said summertime temperatures allow for better and quicker drying for the glue needed to properly reapply the artificial turf than colder temperatures would have. And while school is out for the summer as of last Wednesday, fall sports typically start practices in the last week of August, leaving a short time frame.

Ms. Siebert said that DPW has every expectation there will not be any delays in reopening the fields for fall sports. The plan approved by the DEEP and EPA that allow the fields to be used will still be in effect and the testing is not expected to take too long. Ms. Siebert said that fields six and seven can likely be completed within the next two to three weeks but that while tests for fields three and four will be done over a time frame, they don’t believe as of now that things will take any longer than the summer.

“The goal is very much to be done so the athletic department can have full access in the fall,” Ms. Siebert said.

According to the school district, approximately 100 soil borings will be done on these fields between now and August. The majority will take place on fields three, four and five. Additionally there will be borings in the west parking lot area and the site’s southern portion. Approximately 340 soil samples are expected to be taken from these borings and 15 monitoring wells to test if there is ground water contamination will also be set up.

The district is next expected to release an update on field activities in mid-August. Results of the testing are expected to be known in September. Once that information is in, the feasibility study to test possible remediation strategies will better determine what the cost will be. That should be completed, according to the district, by late fall.

Ms. Siebert said that the information gathered by the tests will give her department a better cost estimate to take to the Board of Estimate and Taxation in the fall. A full remediation plan is likely still months away from even being put together, much less approved. But these tests will at least let DPW know what contamination is under the turf fields, if any.

“You can only hope it’s good news, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” Ms. Siebert said.

 

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