PCBs spell big money

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

Materials used to build Lake Region High School in the late 1960s continue to haunt SAD 61.

SAD 61 has spent approximately $630,000 over the last 10 years to remove and dispose of asbestos, according to Finance Coordinator Sherrie (Weese) Small. A “small amount” of asbestos remains, and will be removed.

Now, SAD 61 faces another expensive project. As part of the $13.8 million high school renovation work, PDT Architects tested caulking around exterior windows and doors, as well as the soil below. Levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — a hazardous material — were detected. To comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, PDT Architects estimates it will cost the school district about $1.1 to $1.4 million to correct the problem.

Marilyn Levitan of PDT Architects recently told school board members that the presence of PCBs in older buildings, such as the high school, is common.

PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 until 1979 when the man-made organic chemical was banned. PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, including electrical transformers and switches, cable insulation, fluorescent light ballasts, oil-based paint, floor finish and caulking, according to the EPA website.

“Once in the environment, PCBs do not readily break down and therefore may remain for long periods of time, cycling between air, water and soil. PCBs can be carried long distances and have been found in snow and sea water in areas far away from where they were released into the environment,” the EPA website said. Thus, EPA requires that PCBs be transported to authorized disposal sites. In Lake Region’s case, materials will be shipped to Michigan.

PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer in animals, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems.

Mark Coleman, a hazardous materials consultant, told SAD 61 directors that over a six-month period, six projects were shut down due to PCBs. Coleman said the LRHS project will be the first under EPA’s new strict removal and abatement program

Once the problem was identified, PDT Architects designed a remediation plan, which required EPA approval. The high school building has about 140 doors and windows, of which a third had been targeted for replacement under the renovation plan. Under EPA guidelines, SAD 61 will have two to three years to replace the affected windows and doors. The plan is to first address windows and doors impacted by the renovation project, and complete the remaining areas later.

The abatement plan calls for removing 7 ½ to 8 inches of brick beside each window and door, as well as removing 18 to 24 inches of soil below the windows. EPA will require retesting of each window opening.

Removing a hazardous material is a no brainer. How to fund it could take some creative financing. One option would be to scale back the high school project. Some changes discussed between PDT Architects and the Building Committee included removing: air conditioning in the Vocational Center offices and computer rooms; corridor upgrades back to the gym; cafeteria flooring; new entry; and dance room addition and renovations.

Many directors and administrative leaders supported keeping the project intact ­— retaining the concept approved by voters — and look for other financing options.

The district has $217,000 from a municipal grant earmarked for window replacement (the grant was initially $247,000 but some money was used to upgrade the school’s boiler automation). Other funding sources could include:

• $300,000 from Revolving Renovations Fund, which would require state approval;

• $125,000 from the SAD 61 maintenance budget over the next two years. These funds were initially earmarked for roofing maintenance;

• $250,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund, which would require voter approval. SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Patrick Phillips said the public vote would be held prior to the March 21 school board meeting at Songo Locks School in Naples. The vote will occur at 6:30 p.m. followed by the school board meeting at 7 p.m.

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