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Forum on school site is set

Kimberton Superfund concerns will be discussed.

A public meeting to discuss the Phoenixville Area School District's plan to build an elementary school across Cold Stream Road from the Kimberton Superfund site in East Pikeland Township has been set for June 18.

That's a day before the school board is scheduled to open bids for the school at its monthly meeting.

Some parents and a teachers' representative are asking the board to postpone opening the bids because of what they believe are health hazards.

The Superfund site, which is about 45 acres, was used for manufacturing resin, textile and asphalt products. The previous owner, Ciba, disposed of residue in eight lagoons on the property.

In an e-mail to the school board, Pennsylvania Education Association representative Paul Gottlieb wrote that state law required the district to provide a safe workplace.

"The Environmental Protection Agency's ban on residential use of the [Superfund] site makes it questionable if the building of a school is an appropriate use," Gottlieb wrote. "This issue ... needs more review."

"I'm not claiming it's dangerous," he added. "I don't have expertise to determine that."

The district has been working for about two years with the EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and other consultants to determine potential health risks, said Chris Roe, an environmental lawyer hired by the school board.

A human-health risk assessment was done in February. Only in recent weeks have some parents been focusing on the site.

Dave Sternberg of the EPA said solvents had contaminated the groundwater, but wells have been dug to retrieve the contaminants, which are treated before being discharged into a creek.

"All indications are that the system is working," Sternberg said. "It's not clean yet. It's a slow process. We've asked the board to consider a vapor barrier [in the ground] for the school. I understand that's being done."

The EPA has not noted "any red flags" that would cause it to say the school should not be built, Sternberg said. The district purchased the site in 2005.

Ron Miller, director of operations for the school district, said that if the board approved bids June 19, construction could begin this summer. The school is scheduled to open in 2011.

Said Board President Mark Casaday: "We all have one overriding concern, and that is to build a facility to provide educational opportunity for children and one that is safe."

The forum June 18 is sponsored by the township Environmental Advisory Council, and is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the township building.