BET approves more than $1M to address contaminated soil at high school

Source: Connecticut Post, August 5, 2011
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The Board of Estimate and Taxation voted Thursday night to release $1.3 million from the Greenwich High School auditorium project to address contaminated soil found last month during a parking lot expansion.

An additional $152,000 for environmental testing will have to come from the school district, with BET members deciding that soil testing of the high school’s athletic fields, which were closed last week after soil with high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, was found nearby, was not part of the auditorium and music classroom construction project, known as MISA.

Joseph Ross, chairman of the MISA Building Committee, presented the list of costs to the BET.

Of the total amount, $740,000 comes from carting away approximately 830 tons of soil contaminated with PCBs, along with a 2,600-ton pile of topsoil that also was found to be contaminated, though the smaller pile has a greater concentration of the toxic substances, about 50 parts per million.

The estimated cost of environmental testing originally put forth by Ross has doubled.

Costs also include bringing in more than 3,000 tons of clean fill and topsoil, resealing and marking the parking area and installing temporary lighting and security cameras.

Much of the finance board’s discussion centered on whether the school district should shoulder some of the burden, since the contaminated soil found near the athletic fields was considered by some members to be an issue separate from MISA.

BET Chairman Stephen Walko said he thought testing the athletic fields was outside the scope of MISA.

BET member William Finger said he was “troubled” that the soil issue was being attributed to the auditorium project.

“We are where we are because MISA is doing everything right,” Finger said. “There’s been a lot of work done at the high school. It could very well have been contractors ignored dark soil before.”

Superintendent of Schools Sidney Freund said after the BET vote that the Board of Education will have to approve the transfer of funds for the testing at a special meeting in the next couple of weeks.

“I’m going to defer to the BET on that. That’s not my decision,” Freund said of the debate about what costs should be shouldered by MISA and what was the district’s responsibility. “The important thing is the work gets done.”

Some people have questioned whether soil testing should have been done before any work for the project started. Ross said earlier this week that soil borings were done to see how much water and rock was on the property, and that environmental testing could have been done at that time, but wasn’t.

Environmental testing is not likely to end at the west end of the school, where the contaminated soil was originally discovered. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency could require testing of the soil on the portion of the property where the new auditorium is being constructed, near the gymnasium and science wing of the high school, Ross told the BET.

At one point during the meeting, Walko questioned the future of MISA.

“Are we sitting on a site where it simply becomes cost prohibitive to do the auditorium project?” Walko asked.

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