Updated: 1045 p.m.
The Greenwich Public Schools’ Crisis Team plans to meet Monday morning to assess the latest test results of soil samples of athletic fields at Greenwich High School where the $28 million auditorium expansion project is underway.
At 3 p.m. Friday, work was halted and the fields quarantined from any use because “The results received today, July 29, 2011, indicated that PCB levels at 0 – 1 (feet) depth are higher than the acceptable standards for residential or commercial uses. Based on these results, all GHS fields will be closed immediately for public use,” according to a statement from Superintendent Dr. Sidney Freund that was released by the school district. (Please see the two statements released by the Board of Education are attached.)
“The decision to close all fields at the high school was made to be extremely safe while the information is being developed,” said Board of Education Chairman Steven Anderson. “It is a temporary hardship to the public … it is my understanding that it is all fields including Cardinal Stadium.” Specifically, the results were from test borings taken near the rear parking lot and athletic fields 3 and 4, Anderson said.
“Our first focus is community safety,” Anderson said. “The key, key, key thing is to take an extremely safe route (of action). First and foremost is safety, safety, safety.” It is not known how long the fields will be closed.
The decision to close the fields caused Greenwich Parks & Recreation Department to scramble and relocate a number of summer lacrosse, baseball, field hockey and soccer camps, and private rentals of the athletic fields on the 33-acre campus on Hillside Drive, to alternative locations. “We are requiring the fields be closed but the good point is where we are at with the schedule. The next three weeks are the lightest scheduling we have all year long. We can accommodate people’s use … it may not be their first preference, but we will be able to accommodate them,” said Joseph Siciliano, Parks and Recreation superintendent.
“We are doing our due diligence to close everything.”He said his department was notifying each group of the changes.
What remains to be seen is the impact the closures will have on the school campus and the pending fall athletic schedules. Those schedules will be discussed between the town and Board of Education next week, Siciliano said.
The $28 million MISA project – the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project began in early July – weeks after town boards finally approved the project which is to enlarge the number of classrooms for performing arts students and nearly double capacity of the auditorium to almost 1,400 seats.
There were preliminary ground soil tests showed there were contaminants in the soil, prompting the second round of tests that resulted in the closing of the athletic fields yesterday.
The district’s crisis team - comprised of senior managers, is to meet Monday morning and at 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, the MISA project building committee will meet. Anderson that the committees will assess what soil tests should be done, based upon the second round of tests this week, and what impact they will have on the project’s progress.
School and town officials have acknowledged that they need to devise a plan to deal with the contaminated soil issue before the 2011 academic year begins in September. Most of the school’s rear parking lot was been closed because of the construction, and it was anticipated the area would be reopened in time for the start of classes.
Anderson said that those factors would considered during Monday’s Crisis Team meeting and that of the MISA building committee early Tuesday morning.
In a statement released Friday evening, First Selectman Peter Tesei said, "I support the Greenwich Pubic Schools Administration decision to close all athletic fields at Greenwich High School out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our residents, especially our children."
He also said, "It is important we find out all the facts and obtain a clear assessment of the magnitude of this situation. Once that is done then an effective course of action can be taken. Town Departments will be instructed to provide their full support and resources to the School System to assist them in addressing this challenge."
All athletic fields at Greenwich High School have been closed to all activities, effective immediately.
Officials said late Friday afternoon that test results from soil borings done earlier this month indicated PCBs were present. How widespread the problem was not immediately known. The fields will be closed for at least two to three weeks, until school officials know how widespread the problem is and how it can be removed.
The fields are being fenced off, gates locked, signs being posting the quarantine and security guards will be stationed at the 33-acre campus on Hillside Road, to ensure no one gains access.
The Greenwich Department of Parks and Recreation is relocating all previously scheduled activities to alternate fields in town, according to Parks and Recreation Superintendent Joseph Siciliano.
The discovery of contaminated soil came earlier this month during the construction of the $28 million Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project.
Greenwich Patch will provide more details as they become available.