Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More Toxic Schools on the Way


In January, the Mayor secured City Council approval to build four schools on a brownfield site in Mott Haven. Today, Metro reporter Patrick Arden describes the City's latest plan to reclaim a toxic site for a school, this time in the former Queens County Morgue. Here's what people in the neighborhood had to say:

"The site is contaminated,” said Robert Trabold, president of the community group Hillcrest Citizens for Neighborhood Preservation. “Over the years chemicals were dumped on the soil, and it’s in the groundwater. We said, ‘Well, what will parents think?’”

Mr Trabold asks "What will parents think?" but we know that's never a concern with the Administration that will build twice as many new stadium seats as school seats. Queens has the most overcrowded crowded schools in the City. But that simply means Queens parents will face another of the Mayor's false choices: crowded schools or schools on toxic sites. Here's a link to the full article.

Last November, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's staff issued strenuous denials when the NY Times reported that reclamation of toxic sites for school construction was a major component of the Mayor's sustainability effort. This school-in-a-morgue news doesn't make those denials any more believable. If Mayor Bloomberg can move heaven and earth for big real estate developments, why is it so hard to build schools?

7 comments:

Daniel Millstone said...

Personally, I'm not, in principle, opposed to reuse as schools of sites at which hazardous materials may have been released in the past. In cities like NY, where such releases were common in the past, site reuse may be essential. I've seen use of perfectly good sites opposed by parents and community members on the basis of very thin fears.

The question, to my mind, is how to ensure proper clean up and continuing monitoring of the sites, both of which are expensive. Will the school construction funds have to pay for clean up and monitoring? Well, that makes the use of those sites less competitive as compared to non-contaminated sites.

Patrick Sullivan said...

I think it's important to reclaim toxic sites but disagree that using such sites for schools is essential. In principle, a school should never be located on a former toxic site. The science of reclamation is simply too immature to risk the health of our children and teachers. During the hearing on Mott Haven schools, Council Education Chair Robert Jackson recounted how school kids were put into a dry cleaning facility after similar promises of a clean-up. Some months later, the facility was evacuated at great cost to all.

Leonie Haimson said...

So why not build stadiums or luxury housing on the toxic sites -- instead of schools, if the city was really intent on keeping our kids safe?

As Daniel points out, it is because these sites are cheap and no one else wants them that the city intends to use them for schools.

Daniel Millstone said...

The sites are exceptionally cheap if you do not factor in the costs of remediation and monitoring. Once those costs are counted, the balance often shifts away from using contaminated sites. That's why private developers, leery of being on the hook for huge liabilities, shy away from such sites.

NYC Educator said...

They don't want to be liable or take risks with their businesses. Taking risks with city children, apparently, is somehow more acceptable to them, and to this mayor.

There's not really much else anyone needs to say. And if the balance shifts away from the contaminated sites, that's all the more reason not to dump them on kids.

Jennifer said...

Well, the profits being made by private developers on the sites are great- school or not..Brownfield sites that qualify in NY are now getting up to 22% of total development costs paid for by the state, (instead of only remediation costs), so the sites are quite attractive for large, costly projects. Still, it seems there is still not enough known about long term exposure to some of these sites to have chidlren there all year long..I think Monitoring is the key to making sure that these decisions are not long term nightmares...

Jennifer said...

Well, the profits being made by private developers on the sites are great- school or not..Brownfield sites that qualify in NY are now getting up to 22% of total development costs paid for by the state, (instead of only remediation costs), so the sites are quite attractive for large, costly projects. Still, it seems there is still not enough known about long term exposure to some of these sites to have chidlren there all year long..I think Monitoring is the key to making sure that these decisions are not long term nightmares...