Did they or didn’t they? Trustees offer opposing views on school board’s level of contamination knowledge
By Mike Williscraft
Who knew what when?
That is a question which summarizes a whole lot of calls, email, and texts over the last several weeks since NewsNow broke the story on District School Board of Niagara’s $12.4 million cost overrun on the planned new super school, which will amalgamate the now-closed South Lincoln High School, Grimsby Secondary School and Beamsville District Secondary School with an opening still scheduled for Fall 2022.
In a Jan. 21 story, DSBN’s chief communications officer, Kim Sweeney, said significant soil contamination did not arise until Fall 2019, while site preparation started in May 2019.
“During the process of removing the fill — through constant inspection, testing and reporting — it was discovered that additional quantities of fill over and above what was originally estimated would have to be removed,” Sweeney said.
Last week’s story also referred to an August 2019 email from Lincoln/Grimsby Trustee Elizabeth Klassen to Vineland resident Bob Thompson in which Klassen noted, “The soil remediation is on schedule and I am not aware of any delays. Findings were only some construction items such as wood in the soil that we must remove.”
However, in an email Monday from West Lincoln/Wainfleet Trustee Doug Newton to Caistor Centre resident Nicole Scime, those details were refuted.
In response to Scime’s question, “Can the DSBN prove they did not know the land was contaminated before they purchased?” Newton wrote, “The DSBN and the Ministry of Education have always known that the land was contaminated based on reports received from environmental consultants and the Ministry of the Environment.”
While speculation regarding the state of the land on Hwy. 8 near Durham Road has been rampant for decades there are incidents where concerns have been registered on the public record going back many years.
Minutes from a Lincoln council meeting April 3, 1978 reveals:
“Mrs Martin Hildreth, acting as a spokesman for a large delegation of ratepayers from the Durham Rd. area appeared before the council and presented a lengthy list of objections to the filling of the former Grimsby tile property with a waste oxide material from Dofasco in Hamilton.
The delegations were concerned about the possibility of the soiling of the area, costly cleanup of roads, water pollution and the loss of income from non saleable fruit caused from the trucking of the material from Hamilton.
Mrs Hildreth presented about 75 letters of objections from other property owners in the area.
• Moved by Ald A. Savage and Ald. J. Thomas that this Town of Lincoln after studying the pros and cons of filling of the brickyard site (Durham Rd) with flue dust, do not consent, to the approval of the use of said material and that Enzo Trucking be so notified.”
Answering why the project went so far over budget, – initially set at $5 million for site preparation and $42.5 million for building construction – spending $17.4 million on remediation and preparation to date, Newton noted, “The environmental cleanup and scope of the remediation work was tendered based on the reports of the Ministry of the Environment and environmental consultants. During the remediation process it was identified by the consultants that additional quantities, over what was originally estimated by the consultants, would have to be removed.”
Despite that financial setback, Newton told Scime the new school is still expected to open as planned in Fall 2022.
He also refuted Scime’s claim “that this new school will cost well over the original budgeted costs to “repair” the three original high schools?”
Newton told her, “That this is not the case.
In a note to Newton from NewsNow it was noted, from a DSBN Sept. 28, 2016 newsletter:
“Additionally all three schools are projected to required significant renewal work.
In the period between 2016-2020 BDSS will need over $26 million in renewal, Grimsby over $19 million and South Lincoln over $7 million worth of upgrades and repairs,” Newton was informed, noting the total would be $52 million.
“The super school, again my (NewsNow’s publisher) understanding, is:
• $42.5 million for construction
• Acquisition, remediation and site preparation, $17 million
• An Internal report states another “$3.3 million in remaining work is currently outstanding” – this has been refuted somehow.”
“Without the additional $3.3 million, the costs are now estimated to be $59.5 million for the super school vs fully updating all three west-end schools for $52 million. At this point, with South Lincoln already closed, BDSS and GSS could be renovated for $45 million for further savings.”
Newton has not provided further comment.
To Scime, earlier in the day, Newton refused to provide details on the cost to purchase the land, noting “All land transactions are matter of public record at the land registry office.”
As well, when Scime pointed out minutes for DSBN’s finance committee from May 2018 to current do not appear to be posted, Newton pointed out. “The minutes of all public Finance meetings have always been included in the Board Agenda package and posted online.”
Grimsby Coun. Dave Sharpe said Monday he wants an investigation into the super school problems and added remedies to keep existing high schools in their communities should be considered.
“I will make a Notice of Motion asking the Province to investigate the $12 million cost overruns on the environmental remediation work at the proposed new high school property on King Street near the traffic circle,” said Sharpe.
“And further, asking the Province and DSBN to investigate alternatives that could keep the high schools within the established communities by renovating the existing schools in Grimsby and Beamsville to attract more students and by offering more course selection.