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Widespread Haz-Mat Presence Would Have Hampered Sandy Hook Renovations



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Long before the first environmental contractors started reporting higher than expected levels of lead, asbestos, and PCBs in construction debris at Sandy Hook School, a panel of town officials and residents in a subsequent referendum had already endorsed razing and replacing the aging elementary school building.

According to Public Building & Site Commission Chairman Robert Mitchell, the town and its residents made the right choice. Mr Mitchell said in a facility update he plans to deliver to his commissioners on December 3, that had the town decided to reoccupy the school on Dickinson Drive, it would have faced a daunting and possibly insurmountable challenge regarding the presence of hazardous materials.

The report states that during a review of materials found throughout the school, one assessment “indicated that should we have determined to keep and renovate the school, it would not have been possible to keep the original building in any cost-effective manner.”

Mr Mitchell told The Newtown Bee that the expense for identifying, removing and processing the heightened amount of materials found during demolition required nearly double what was originally budgeted for that aspect of the project. Much of the information in the PBSC report has already been advanced to town officials by First Selectman Pat Llodra, who noted the hazmat issues during recent Legislative Council, Board of Finance, and Board of Selectmen meetings.

On November 20, she told the council that the Sandy Hook School building was essentially gone except for subsurface materials, which have subsequently been removed. During that meeting, Mrs Llodra echoed Mr Mitchell's assessment.

“Had we made the choice to renovate instead of demolish, we would have found ourselves in a difficult circumstance,” she said of the school, which was completed in 1956. So much contaminated material had to be removed, the first selectman told the council, that the Public Works Department had to furnish additional fill so that crews could complete leveling the site.

Materials Were Common

In response to Councilman Paul Lundquist's request for details during the November 20 meeting, Mrs Llodra said the use of asbestos, lead and PCBs in the materials was common when Sandy Hook Elementary School was constructed. She said when the remediation contractor Bestech started testing surfaces, particularly door windows and frames, testers kept finding more and more PCBs in the paint.

In addition, said Mrs Llodra, huge segments of concrete block originally slated for on-site crushing and disposal had to be treated as hazardous materials because of the depth of lead permeation into the material. She said much of that wall masonry had to be removed and trucked out of state for appropriate disposal, adding significant expense to the demolition phase.

A few days later, Mrs Llodra told the finance board she had been assured that any evidence of a building on the Sandy Hook site would be gone before December 14. And she reiterated the information about possibly reoccupying versus rebuilding the school, saying, “We made the right decision to build new.”

The PBSC report states that because of some hazardous materials in tunnels and footings, these areas may not be fully remediated until December 7. It is anticipated that all on-site crushing and removal of materials to out of state hazardous material retention sites will be completed by December 10, with the back filling and regrading of the site scheduled for completion by December 12.

Mrs Llodra told the council that any materials that were recoverable have been processed and repurposed on site.

Extent Of Contamination

The report indicates that PCBs were not only discovered in concrete block, but under terrazzo flooring and in sulfur block used in the foundations and footings. In addition, vinyl asbestos tile was discovered under carpeted areas, along with asbestos in the mastic holding insulation to the subfloor tunnel ductwork.

“We probably sent a majority of the original building to Ohio and Pennsylvania, one truckload at a time,” Mr Mitchell noted in the document.

His report notes that no PCBs were found in concrete floor slabs, nor in the slab vapor barriers. That concrete was crushed and used on site as fill.

The report states that all asbestos- and PCB-contaminated materials were transported by truck to an authorized facility in Hartford, then transported by rail car to an authorized hazardous materials landfill in Ohio. All manifests were collected and reviewed on-site by town personnel.

Also, all steel from the building was transported to a location in Waterbury where the components were commingled with other steel waste and then transported to a facility for recycling.

All brick and general, noncontaminated building materials were crushed or “grappled” on site to create the smallest particles. Then the construction waste was transported by unmarked trucks to a facility in Hartford for mixing with other construction waste and disposal.

Regarding the new building process, the report states that Svigals + Partners, the architectural firm hired on the project, “has been finalizing the [educational specifications] and converting it into a Functional Space Program to be used as the basis of design.”

The architects and their consultants have been holding meetings with a variety of town commissions and private groups to widen their knowledge and understand the town’s concerns.

The architects and their consultants have also been developing site location and orientation options, looking at access, parking, number of stories, etc. These issues will be further developed as the conceptual designs for review by the appropriate town boards and commissions move forward, the report states.

The Sandy Hook School demolition site was nearly clear by the time this aerial photo was taken on November 13. Local officials have since indicated that the extensive degree of hazardous materials on the site would have prevented or significantly hampered efforts to reoccupy the building, which was the site of the 12/14 tragedy. Construction of a new school on the site was approved by voters in October, and will commence in the coming months. 
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