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Greenwich High Called Safe Despite Soil Concerns

GREENWICH, Conn. – Parking issues and athletic field opening delays will be remedied after testing is completed on the Greenwich High School grounds, where contaminated soil was found during excavation work this summer, officials assured parents at a public forum Wednesday night.

“We expect to have the fields open by the first [football] game on Sept. 16,” said Interim Superintendent Roger Lulow. “We also hope that we can restore the parking lot within a month … a month projection is not overly optimistic.” The fields will be opened after mulch is put down and the contaminated area fenced off, Lulow said.

As excavation began on parking lots for the auditorium project, known as MISA, workers discovered soil that was darker than dirt found earlier in July while excavating the west lot at the school, prompting immediate environmental testing. All work was stopped, and the area covered and closed off.

Testing in surrounding areas revealed low levels of lead, arsenic, barium, volatile organic compounds or VOCs, polychlorinated biphenyl or PCBs, and petroleum hydrocarbons. Athletic fields were closed, prompting teams to practice on middle school and elementary school fields. Soon after, the school suspended senior parking, causing buses to be overcrowded for the first day of school Wednesday.

“I’m astonished how few parents are here,” said Betsy Wayne, a mother of athletes who said she was concerned about the impact the field closures would have on sports. “I think it’s a hard night to have this on the first day of school, but it’s a big issue.”

Parents asked why environmental testing wasn’t done before the digging. Joe Ross, of the MISA building committee, said work was concentrating on the structural stability of the project. “There was no indication to us of any environmental concerns … albeit we didn’t test for it,” he said.

Chris Koelle, a licensed environmental professional for Diversified Technology Consultants Inc., said that the site before the 1970s had an estate with a large pond, which was later filled in to construct the school, parking lot and athletic fields. However, Koelle said, “We have not been able to confirm the source of the fill material.”

Parents seemed most concerned about the health of children — those who are around the areas and those who once played on the fields where contaminants were found. Sharee Rusnak of the Connecticut Department of Public Health said that because the fields had natural grass, past exposure was minimized. “Because we know the contamination is there now, we want to make sure kids are being safe and make sure those contaminants are excavated and taken out,” she said.

“So are we safe?” an audience member called out.

“I believe you are, yeah,” replied Rusnak.

What do you think of the impact the contaminated soil discovery has had on the school, parents, and students? Comment below or email ahelhoski@thedailygreenwich.com.

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