Soil remediation at Kingsborough Elementary fields likely to cost $3M for Gloversville schools

The field adjacent to Kingsborough Elementary School in Gloversville is fenced off to limit access to the site after pit testing of soil and water conducted by Ambient Environmental Inc. uncovered tannery waste contaminating the field. The field is shown on Tuesday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Current estimates show it will cost about $3 million to remove soil contaminated with leather tannery waste from the playing fields at Kingsborough Elementary School, making it the largest single expense for the school district’s $32.5 million capital project.

Although Gloversville Enlarged School District residents in December voted 285 to 91 in favor of the capital project — a 75.8% approval rate, surpassing the 60% required by state law — detailed cost estimates and specific design elements of the project had not been completed before the vote, and were revealed publicly for the first time last week during a 30-minute public presentation to the school board from the manager of the capital project, Michael Andrews of Albany-based engineering firm CSArch, and the construction manager Bob Grande of Turner Construction.

After listening to design details about replacing playground equipment at the district’s elementary schools, new parking areas, changes to the student drop off traffic patterns, and renovations to the interior of the school buildings, like renovations to the middle school’s “pod” areas, new lockers and theatrical lighting for the high school auditorium, the only question asked by a member of the board was how much the soil remediation will cost.

“It’s a little under $3 million. It’s a big chunk,” Grande told the board.

“And that $3 million is the cost to remove it, you’re also going to put 12 feet of solid back in on it to create parking lots and stuff,” Andrews said.

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In 2019, GESD announced it had determined a sulfur smell coming from pooled water at Kingsborough Elementary School had been determined to be coming from volatile organic compounds from decaying leather strips of different colors found in the soil after the district hired Albany-based environmental testing firm Ambient Environmental to dig test pits in the fields to investigate the source of the odor.

Ambient Environmental determined the air quality was safe around the fields and in the school, well below the level allowed by New York state standards, federal standards or even the most stringent standards used in California, but the material still posed health risks to children if they physically touched it or ingested it. The school board agreed to include the remediation in its $32.5 million capital project plan.

The GESD has known of the concerns about topsoil since a 1991 environmental study conducted by EDER Associates Consulting Engineers of Locust Valley, New York. EDER determined tannery waste was deposited on the site prior to construction of the school building in 1972.

GESD School Board President Robert Curtis said he’s hopeful the soil removal component of the capital project will happen by the summer of 2022.

“We have to get rid of it. It can’t stay there,” Curtis said. “The board made that decision, before my time, back in 1991 was the last time there was an issue with it, and at the time they were given the choice to dig it up or leave it, and they decided to leave it, and I guess that worked for 28 years, but then when we had that wet spring [in 2019] and the ground sank on us. At that point it had been so long, nobody really remembered the scope of the stuff that was buried there. So, I think it’s a good time that we get rid of it now and not have to worry about it in the future.”

Curtis said the soil removal is the key to the capital project’s plans to add parking to Kingsborough Elementary School and a new playground.

“The playground won’t be where the [now contaminated soil] field is, because that’s where staff parking, visitor parking and parent drop off will be,” he said. “If you’ve ever been by 11th ave in the morning for school drop off, disaster is the word that sometimes describes what that looks like, so we’re going to try to make that area staff parking and parent drop-off only through a loop in there with a parking lot in the middle to try to alleviate some of the congestion on 11th Avenue, but we can’t do anything on that land until the soil is dug out.”

During his project design presentation to the school board Andrews described specific elements of the projects at each of the district’s schools.

• Boulevard Elementary — Andrews said all of the playground equipment next to the school’s basketball courts will be removed and replaced with new equipment like “climbers”, slides, swings and “crab traps”, which are landscape structures that use nets children climb on.

“That’s a lot of playground equipment, the district is making a great commitment to the students and to the parents who live in the neighborhoods of these schools,” he said. “All of this equipment will have accessible features. Everything will have accessible ramps provided to them from paved walks.”

• McNab Elementary School — Some of the vintage playground equipment at the school will remain there, but it will be supplemented with “special needs specific” playground equipment.

• Park Terrace Elementary — The two older playgrounds near the former track area will be removed and replaced with a new playground built near where the former tennis courts at the school were located before they were turned into a parking area. The road behind the building will be widened, enabling two-way traffic to help with traffic congestion.

• Kingsborough Elementary School — In addition to remediating the soil, the capital project will include putting school bus drop-off of students in front of the main door of the building. “We’re taking the majority of student playground play space for the backside of the building away from the roads and parking lots,” Andrews said.

• Gloversville High School — Changing will be made to the school’s traffic pattern with two dedicated student drop off areas, one near the middle school.

“For parents who are coming up Lincoln Street to drop students at the high school, they will pull into a parking lot, right by where the solar fields are, and there will be a dedicated lane for parents to drive up and drop students all the way up towards the building along the sidewalks,” Andrews said.

The high school auditorium will also get new lighting, a new sound system and a new stage.

• Gloversville Middle School — The capital project includes pod renovations for the center areas of the sixth and seventh grade pod areas creating a “fishbowl” room affect.

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“What you will see in the middle school 6th grade pod is that the area that is now the general open area is going to be broken down and developed into a space that is for large group instruction,” Andrews said. “You could fit up to 16 to 18 students in it for specialized classes, or specialized sessions.”

Andrew said the new center area rooms in the pods will be separated from the regular hallways with tempered glass walls that wouldn’t injure students if they were broken. He said some other additional rooms and office space will also be built into the pods.

Andrews said the site plans for the capital project will be submitted to the New York State Education Department soon, with the hope they will receive final approval by February, enabling project construction to begin.

“[State Education Dept.] times right now for architectural [approvals] are two to four weeks, for engineering it’s six weeks, because they have very few managers, which is adding significant time to the project review process,” Andrews told the school board. “So, eight to 10 weeks from when we submit final approvals is about right.”

Grande told the school board his current cost estimates show a $367,145 cost overrun from the $32.5 million project approved by voters, but he expects cost savings will be found to cover the overrun, possibly from about $1 million budgeted for asbestos abatement.

“We aren’t finding that much asbestos in the preliminary report,” he said. “We haven’t gotten the full report back yet, but that’s a number that will go down.”

GESD estimates that 76 percent or approximately $24.81 million of the total project cost will be financed through state building aid.

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By Paul Wager