By Alexandria Gasperini and Jack Fischer
On November 15, The Journal News reported on the state of the facilities of schools in Westchester County, giving Briarcliff High School an unsatisfactory rating, due to our corroding exterior, water damage, and infamous toxic fields. On November 17, the Briarcliff School Board held a meeting regarding the toxic fields with presentations by environmental consultants discussing the analysis report and options for remediation.
In 1998, the district took advantage of the Fill for Fields Program, which was intended to provide an inexpensive way for contractors to get rid of excess fill material and for districts to inexpensively build fields. In other words, it was a “win-win” for both Briarcliff and the company the district worked with, Whitney Trucking. Unfortunately, Whitney did not provide acceptable fill and instead used Briarcliff as a dumping ground for contaminated material. The fill contained pulverized components such as plywood, tile, and painted lumber, which made it difficult to determine the composition of the fill or to verify that we received acceptable fill material. In 1999, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) discovered the widespread abuses under the Fill For Fields program, and Whitney was arrested and convicted over the same issue at another school. The DEC issued a consent order to the district, which was an agreement that if the situation regarding the fields needed to be corrected, the district could investigate. However, in 2004 the district indirectly violated the consent order by not funding an investigation. Finally, the fields were closed in January 2010 to assess the open DEC consent order.
Testing revealed mercury, barium, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) among other materials. The environmental consultants who presented at the board meeting stated that while these contaminants were dangerous at concentrated levels, exposure to them is limited. An athlete who uses the fields on a regular basis has 1 in 1 million to 1 in 100,000 of actually being harmed by the fields. Even though the fields are next to a marsh area, the surrounding water did not appear to be contaminated, and it was emphasized that the water is not a drinking water source anyway. Since a health risk results only from human exposure to contaminants from the soil, the problem could potentially be solved by just eliminating human exposure. Therefore, the contaminated soil could remain in the ground and could simply be covered.
They could be covered with either natural turf, synthetic turf, asphalt, or they could be excavated completely and replaced with new soil. The latter is the most expensive, topping off at $18,030,000. Other options are still expensive, estimated at $1,445,000 for natural turf, $3,650,000 for synthetic turf and $2,915,000 for asphalt. A combination of the solutions for each of the fields is also possible.
On December 3, 2010, another private consultant inspected the Middle and High Schools and deemed the physical condition of our facilities unsatisfactory, that is, not up to regulation. It was discovered that not only were the toxic fields a blaring issue, but so were many other parts of the building. The exterior walls are observed as corroding and decaying due to the age of the building. Visible water damage and mold in the library is evidence of the many leaks in the High School due to pooling water on the roof of the building. Also, doors are not up to fire and disability regulation; for example, the exterior door hardware is determined as unsatisfactory and should be replaced. In some rooms in the High School, there is poor air ventilation, where they have return air but no supply and vice versa. For example, the High School dance studio has no fresh air circulation, and it is next to a maintenance garage with an exhaust pipe. Hopefully our carbon monoxide detectors are functioning.
Due to budgetary issues, the other structural problems will have to be remediated at a later date. But, some issues have been fixed as indicated by the inspection report. As the inspection was taking place, the Troy Lecture Hall carpeting was in the process of being replaced. The report also suggested that the school should replace the phone system, which as of this summer, has already been taken care of. As for the fields, a decision has still not been made, but once all of the options have been weighed, a decision will be voted on and the project will commence.