Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series this week answering questions posed about the school construction process. All parts of this series are being presented by Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel.
Why is methane gas an issue now? Why wasn’t it discovered earlier?
In November of 2004, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) was conducted to determine the suitability of the site for constructing schools. The report indicated no current environmental concerns, but did recommend a Limited Phase II ESA be conducted based on the proximity of the closed landfill. This assessment was completed by making 11 borings to a depth of 20 feet throughout the site. Three temporary monitoring wells were installed along the northern property boundary. Since there was no water collected from these wells, an analysis for water contamination could not be performed. These wells were also tested for methane gas. The readings, based on two separate test dates, did not indicate a concern.
On February 4, 2016, the Urbana City School District received a letter from the Ohio EPA in regards to concerns about the construction of our new PreK-8 school on the Community Drive. They note that, “… since 2012 routine landfill gas monitoring results from probes on the southern boundary indicate increased methane gas volume at that boundary.” Also in this communication, the EPA indicated that they are, “… extremely concerned about the construction of a school in such close proximity to the landfill, especially since there are known methane gas migration and groundwater contamination issues associated with the landfill.”
After receiving this letter, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) and the District met with representatives of the Ohio EPA to discuss their concerns. During this meeting, the EPA indicated that the “cap” placed on the landfill was doing its job of sealing off the top of the landfill and most likely causing the horizontal migration of the methane gas away from the landfill.
Following a meeting with the Urbana City Administration, the Ohio EPA and the District’s construction team, our OFCC project manager determined that she would not allow any more design work on the site until the issue with the methane gas migration was resolved.
As communicated with the school district, the EPA requires all structures within 1000 feet of a landfill to have an explosive gas monitoring system or other means to monitor the presence of methane gas. The location selected for the school placed the edge of the building at about 450 feet from the landfill. In an attempt to eliminate the need for a monitoring system, the district’s architect looked at moving the school outside of the 1000-foot boundary. Unfortunately, this location created too many site issues and was determined to be unacceptable. In fact, moving all building construction to a distance of 1000 feet from the closed landfill makes about 38 acres of the 54-acre site unsuitable for school facilities.
The District and architect had been working on plans for the school for about ten months before the EPA raised this concern. At that point in time, the location of the new school on the site had been selected and the building’s floor plan had been designed. It would have been too costly and taken too much additional time to re-design the floor plan to fit a re-configured site.
The District was not given a definitive timeline for when the migration of the methane gas at the closed landfill was going to be resolved so that construction could proceed. In addition, there were concerns that there may be unforeseen issues in the future at that site. It was determined by the Board that the best course of action was to look for an alternative location and to abandon the Community Drive site at this time.
This op-ed written by Mr. Thiel has been printed exactly as it was submitted. For previously submitted op-ed pieces on this topic, log on to www.urbanacitizen.com and browse the Opinion section.