Oil and PCB contamination; Renovations at middle schools hit snags

October 5, 2012

By Rob Glidden
Staff Writer

The process of preparing for the renovations at Kennedy and DePaolo Middle Schools has become more complicated with the discovery of various environmental concerns.
Representatives of Hygenix, Inc are conducting over 200 tests in both schools to learn more details about the extent of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) present in building materials such as window caulking and floor tiles.
After a meeting of the middle schools building committee discussed the issue in detail, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi assured parents in a written statement that no trace of the PCBs was found in air samples at the schools, meaning that there were no contamination risks to current students. A public meeting was also quickly arranged to give any concerned community members a chance to ask questions and learn about the issue.
Although they do not currently pose a threat to the two schools, the PCBs will have to be dealt with before the renovations begin in July 2013.
“At this point, we have two issues,” Erardi said. “We have to finish the testing and then we have to determine the cost of remediation.”
The news of environmental problems did not come as a surprise to school officials. A report from May 2011 by EnviroMed Services, Inc found the PCBs as well as traces of asbestos. At the time, the effect of this discovery on the cost of the middle schools project was expected to be minor.
“Indications are that PCB’s will have less than a $50,000 impact to the project budget for this school,” wrote John Luby, a project engineer with EnviroMed, in his report.
However, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has recently adopted stricter requirements when dealing with PCBs. In Waterbury, the cost of the ongoing Carrington Elementary School replacement project has increased by $2.3 million because of new state pollution testing requirements, which has shocked city officials and residents.
“What I’m encountering is a lot of people who didn’t understand what happened,” said Ann M. Sweeney, a member of the Waterbury Board of Education. “After all was said and done, [the DEEP] changed the rules of the game and caused what is now a $2 million shortfall.”
The two middle schools were built in the 1960s, well before the dangers of PCBs were public knowledge. As the environmental regulations continue to evolve, numerous construction projects involving buildings of this era have run into this issue.
“We had a similar problem, to a much lesser extent, at North Center School but this is not limited to Southington,” said Town Manager Garry Brumback. “We are seeing these problems all over the state.”
Brumback said he expected the results from the additional testing by the end of October. This will ideally give the officials a sense of what the remediation costs will be. Erardi said that the budget for the renovation projects had $1.2 million meant to deal with remediation issues, $600,000 for each school.
Another issue is the impact of a 5,000 gallon fuel oil spill at DePaolo Middle School in 1980. At a meeting of the building committee, officials said they had found records of the spill in the archives of the fire department but no documents pertaining to it could be found at Town Hall.
It has been a lot of new information in a short time for the building committee, but the officials involved said it was important to keep the public informed about each development.
“I’m grateful for the leadership of the public building committee for allowing us to be proactive with this,” Erardi said. “It was vitally important to get this information out there.”
A report from the Waterbury Republican-American was used in this story.

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