A new wrinkle has appeared in the project to build new schools for Urbana City Schools.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about leaking methane gas from the city’s former landfill and is working with the city and school district on the issue.
The school district is building a pre-kindergarten to grade eight building on land off Community Drive, next to the property where the former landfill is located. The building was planned to be located in the northwestern section of the property.
The landfill closed in 1988, Urbana Community Development Manager Doug Crabill said. Over the years, the EPA has required the city monitor methane gas at the site. Approximately five years ago, the EPA required the city to cap the landfill, which allowed for smoother water runoff, but trapped the gas in the landfill. Since the gas cannot escape vertically, it will do so horizontally.
The problem comes into play because that gas cannot be drifting off the landfill, according to the EPA. Since the school’s property is right next door, that creates a problem.
Superintendent Charles Thiel said the EPA was under the impression the school district’s property was owned by the city, so the EPA thought there was not an issue. Though the school district has owned the property for 10 years, and has done environmental reviews on the property twice, it did not hit the EPA’s radar until someone in a meeting said that property would house a school building.
The city is responsible for monitoring the methane and dealing with the problem, but the school may also have to make some changes to the site. Thiel said the district may have to move the school building farther from the property line next to the landfill. This would require architects to reconfigure the site plan, which could delay the project.
“We were looking at doing a possible early site package this summer,” Thiel said, referring to the beginning steps of preparing a site for construction. “So we basically are considering possibly this summer as a lost summer, unless we get great news on Monday.”
The school district and city will meet with Ohio EPA officials Monday to discuss the steps needed to deal with this latest issue. The Urbana Planning Commission is expected to discuss the site plan for the new high school at its Monday meeting.
In other action, the school board unanimously approved two resolutions Tuesday related to the building project, one for the schematic design of the pre-kindergarten to grade eight building and one for the new high school building. It is required action as part of the building project process, Thiel said.
City weighs in on matter
During Tuesday’s Urbana City Council meeting, Director of Administration Kerry Brugger confirmed the city has been in contact with the Ohio EPA and will meet with its representatives next week to discuss any concerns over the proposed location of the school just south of the city’s old landfill.
“We are continuing to do what we have to do to make sure our property line is secured as best we can,” he said.
Council member Dwight Paul asked whether the city has been able to mitigate any of the methane gas migration issues at the landfill. Brugger said, “We’ve been able to control it and contain it.”
Brugger added it’s his belief the Ohio EPA is simply seeking reassurance from the city that the proper measures are being taken to deal with landfill gas.
“We’ve been very upfront with the EPA, and we’ve worked with them to ensure we do stay in compliance and meet any requirements they have for us,” he said.
Briefly explaining the methane situation to those unaware of the situation, council member Doug Hoffman said, “(The methane gas) is a byproduct of the decomposition of the old landfill, so it’s not like someone put gas in the ground.”
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.