Citing concerns about pesticide contamination on the site, supervisors chose to table vote that would have moved the East Pikeland Elementary School expansion project forward Tuesday evening.
Before a standing-room-only crowd, the board, down to two members as Board Member Benson Campbell was absent, once again heard from Phoenixville Area School District representatives, residents in opposition to the school on the site and residents who support the proposed expansion. Tuesday’s vote would have granted 14 waivers for the land development process. The project still requires zoning variances and special exceptions that have to be granted before the zoning hearing board.
At a recent planning commission meeting where the commission recommended approval of the 14 waivers, residents who have formed a neighborhood coalition to fight the expansion of the school voiced concerns about dieldrin contamination shown in a well on the school site. The testing dates back to 1989, and the school switched to public water in the early 1990s. The source of the dieldrin has never been determined.
During his portion of the presentation, Superintendent Dr. Alan Fegley said a formal report on the dieldrin contamination was done by the district in January 2010. The report concluded that the chemical, which is an insecticide produced from 1950 to 1974, likely did not come from the school site.
Nearby residents have said they’re concerned construction would stir up the groundwater, causing further contamination to nearby wells. An evaluation of environmental conditions commissioned by the East Pikeland Neighborhood Coalition completed Monday comes to a different conclusion, stating that the source of the dieldrin is “in the vicinity of the school.”
Fegley said the source is likely two dump sites within a mile of the school’s location. The Kimberlea Landfill and the Frog Hollow Road site were both used for dumping and had been used prior to 1970.
“Based on available information, the type and volume of the disposed wastes is undetermined, although dieldrin contamination is associated with both [dumping] sites,” an environmental site assessment commissioned by the district states.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Fegley told the board that in an abundance of caution, the school board voted to move forward with a site-wide geophysical survey to ensure that East Pikeland Elementary School land is not the source of dieldrin. The survey would work like an X-ray, Fegley said, showing any buried containers. It will only penetrate as far down as construction on the site will disturb.
Construction, according to Angelo Capuzzi, engineer for the project, will not go deep enough to reach groundwater. Since its Jan. 19 board meeting, the district has already tested the school’s well and found dieldrin. Fegley said it’s now in higher concentrations than in 1989.
Fegley pointed out that the school was built in 1930 and dieldrin was not manufactured until 1950, and he said he believes it’s unlikely that any canisters are buried on the school site.
“That said, we’re not certain,” Fegley explained.
The geophysical survey along with well water testing was not expected to cost the district more than $10,000 and Fegley said it could be completed as early as next Friday. The survey will not look below the buildings on the site, Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson told one resident during the meeting.
After hearing much discussion from coalition members and school supporters on dieldrin and other topics, Chairman Ronald Graham said he was hesitant to move forward. Along with Vice Chairman Rusty Strauss, he voted to table the waiver approval indefinitely.
After supervisors voted to approve the land development application for a former Kimberton Elementary School located near a superfund site, the school board backed away and scrapped the project back in 2008 due to environmental concerns.
“I don’t want to be in the position that we were in several years ago,” Graham said.
He explained that lots of energy has gone into the school expansion so far, and said quickly approving the waivers when the supervisors had not yet received the results of the geophysical survey would be imprudent.
After Tuesday's meeting, Fegley said he was disappointed with the move to table the waiver vote but understood the township's position.
It’s uncertain whether or not the district will ask for a continuance for a scheduled Feb. 8 zoning hearing.
Phoenixville Patch plans to have more on this meeting, so be sure to check back.