As elected school board members express concerns about remediation efforts on the land off Boston Avenue proposed to replace Harding High School the city faces deadlines about funding sources, cost factors and restrictions on a new location. Local and state officials say construction cannot begin on the site of the former Remington Arms munitions plant owned by General Electric without cleaned clearance to residential standards approved by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Some city activists as well as Board of Education President Sauda Baraka have recently sounded the alarm bell about site toxins. Supporters of the location argue what’s all the hullabaloo as long as the site is cleaned to residential standards?
Harding High School, nearly 90 years old, is a mess. It’s an antiquated learning environment primarily serving students on the East Side of the city. A portion of the General Electric property would be set aside for a new $78 million high school with General Electric shouldering much of the cleanup costs. The current Harding campus would then allow a much-needed expansion of the adjacent Bridgeport Hospital and creation of construction and health care jobs.
Summary of Environmental Remediation Plan Report compiled by School Building Committee that includes a cross section of city and education officials:
The proposed Harding High School site has been extensively tested with thousands of soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells throughout the footprint of the school site. Since the site is regulated by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), cleanup must be performed by General Electric to comply with DEEP remediation standards. In the case of the Harding site, cleanup is required to achieve standards that apply to a residential property. Based on the extensive testing performed, a plan for site remediation has been developed which includes targeted soil removal, as well as the placement of a clean fill cover layer across the property. The clean fill cover layer will consist of two feet of clean fill in paved areas, and four feet of clean fill in unpaved areas. Use of a clean fill cover layer is consistent with DEEP requirements, will be protective of human health, and has been used at several other school properties including the Greenwich High School and Hamden Middle School. The DEEP will ultimately review the remedial plan, review the remediation work, before providing a final sign-off that the site has achieved residential standards. Only after DEEP has approved the remediation, will the ownership of the property be transferred to the City.
The city has received an extension on funding for a new high school that is grandfathered in under an 80/20 state-city share. Extended delays in project approval, with additional cost factors, would likely jeopardize a new high school facility as a result of changes in state law to the new 60/40 state-city funding ratio.
Can the school be built elsewhere? Bridgeport is a land-poor old industrial community with numerous sites that also require extensive remediation, including the current high school location on Central Avenue. How about building a new facility on the current Harding athletic field? According to the School Building Committee report the current Harding site is constrained by footprint of the site, high cost to tear down and remediate, and would derail Bridgeport Hospital expansion.
Outgoing Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, in an exit interview Tuesday night on the Bridgeport Now cable access show hosted by Jennifer Buchanan, reiterated the site must be cleaned to residential standards. He also indicated the city risks losing the new high school with extended delays.
In the coming weeks informational sessions will provide more details about the plan. Will concerns be allayed? Or will delays kill the project?