Former railroad site ‘pretty clean’

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

It may not be necessary to tear down the vacant Memorial School in Bridgton after all in order to redevelop the site.

The draft report of a Brownfields study the town had done on the Depot Street school and former railroad yard site is complete, and it shows that the 20-acre site and school building is “not a substantial environmental threat,” according to Alan Manoian, Bridgton’s Director of Economic and Community Development.

“It looks much better than we thought. Relatively speaking, this former railroad yard site is pretty clean,” Manoian said. The asbestos issue in the school building itself “is not as bad as first thought,” and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are not present in the school’s window caulking.

“All in all the building, and what went on in and around it for the past 50 years, is not a substantial environmental threat,” he said Monday. “So, all looks good for a landmark redevelopment of this great site upon Depot Street in 2011.”

Specific redevelopment plans have not yet been developed for the site, which was operated as a railroad yard for the Narrow Gauge Railway of the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad from 1882 to the late 1940s, and then became the site of the Bridgton Memorial School. The T-shaped, 16,000 square foot school opened as Bridgton High School in 1949, later served as a middle school, and most recently was used for adult education classes.

It has not been decided yet what use will be made of the site, and if so, whether the school building will be demolished or renovated. Manoian said the next step is to wait for the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation to be officially established, and then reapply for grant funding during the February 2011 grant cycle of the Greater Portland Council of Governments’ Brownfields Assessment Program.

The environmental assessment was conducted by Credere Associates, LLC and paid for with a portion of the $200,000 Brownfields grant that Bridgton shared this year with three other GPCOG communities.

It was originally thought that the railroad yard would be found to contain many environmental concerns, and while some contaminants were found, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, Manoian said.

“As it turns out, they did find some metals and some very small quantities of contamination in the soil,” he said. The school does contain asbestos, as it was constructed using cemento boards that are made from asbestos, Manoian added. The building also has lead-based paint.

Credere Associates evaluated the historic use of the site as a rail yard, floor drains, onsite septic system, an adjacent bulk oil storage tank and possible contamination related to an underground storage tank. They used ground-penetrating radar and electronic equipment to trace the floor drains, identify evidence of former buildings and make sure there were no underground utilities before drilling. They drilled 15 soil borings and put in 12 groundwater monitoring wells. They sampled the soil and the water and studied the building for evidence of asbestos, lead paint, universal waste and PCBs.

They did find evidence of a spill from the underground tank, but were unclear as to whether it was an older spill or a more recent release from the existing tank.

Credere recommended that, “if the building is to be reused as part of redevelopment, the remaining unsealed floor drains in the boiler room should be sealed to prevent future discharges of petroleum or hazardous materials to the subsurface through the on-site septic system.” All asbestos, universal wastes and small-volume containers of hazardous substances inside the building need to be disposed of, the study states.

The underground storage tank should be removed, and any surface or subsurface contaminated soil should be capped during redevelopment, the study also recommends.

“Specific redevelopment plans have not yet been developed for the site,” the study states. “However, the town of Bridgton would like the site to be redevelopment for mixed uses that may include commercial, retail and/or residential. The site currently has a skate park located to the north of the building, and green space may be included as part of site redevelopment.”

Manoian said his office is in the process of putting together a work group “to think about and more fully develop the plan of what the new site should be, and could be.” Any plan would have to win the approval of voters at town meeting.

Please follow and like us: