Chris Fitzsimon and Rob Schofield (aka “Sesame Street’s Bert & Ernie”) have unleashed their PolicyWatch hounds on Moore County Public Schools for their decisions regarding Moore County’s new Aberdeen school:
On the edge of Aberdeen lay a lovely tract of land that was easy to miss while speeding down Highway 5. Stippled with young to middle-aged pine trees, it historically had been used for timbering, but now the landowner, BVM Properties, was ready to sell.
Where BVM saw an opportunity to offload land, which some who knew the town’s history viewed as undesirable, Moore County School District officials envisioned possibility: The 22 acres would accommodate a new and larger elementary school for Aberdeen kids. It would be filled with light and equipped with modern technology, and plenty of outdoor space where its 800 children in Pre-K through fifth grade could play.
What a contrast it would be to the current Aberdeen Elementary and Primary schools. Built in the 1940s, when Aberdeen was formally segregated, the schools are cramped, dilapidated and threadbare. They remind teachers, staff and students – most of whom are from communities of color – of enduring inequality.
But this land and this school would be different. Better yet, the property was cheap: $9,000 an acre. It was the first and only offer school district administrators considered.
The land was cheap for a reason. It is sandwiched between two Superfund sites where pesticides were dumped for 50 years. It is located next to an industrial area and within a mile of 10 air pollution sources.
Yet district officials, many of whom are familiar with the history of pesticide dumping in Aberdeen, insist the site is safe. They are basing their confidence on a Phase I environmental assessment from engineering firm Building & Earth, which the district hired to analyze the site. “Everything they looked at didn’t reveal anything wrong with the property,” said John Birath, director of operations for Moore County Schools.[…]
The Pilot is friends with these guys at PolicyWatch. I wonder if they’ll cover any of this? (*NOT holding the breath* …)
Birath spoke to the reporter ever so quietly , so as not to wake the Board of Education from their slumber. (They need to be well-rested when Dr. Bob and the rest of the bureaucrats bring them the next batch of stuff to ‘rubber-stamp.’)
[…] But a review of that assessment shows that it relies primarily on historical documents and “visual inspections.” Independent testing, which would be part of a Phase II assessment, isn’t required unless records indicate there could be pollution on the property. Nor did the assessment consider many other pollution sources.
The school is scheduled to open next fall, and construction has already begun, even though by locating the new school on this property, district officials defied nearly every EPA recommendation – and some state guidelines – for siting schools: It is within a mile of a railroad, a highway with heavy diesel truck traffic, an industrial zone, a propane gas facility, a propane pipeline, four Superfund sites and several small manufacturing facilities. There will be no sidewalks or bike lanes for at least four years. The district never released the environmental assessment for public comment.[…]
As part of a $103 million bond, the district is building several other schools, but none of them in areas this polluted. In Southern Pines, which is north of Aberdeen, the district is spending $82,000 an acre – upward of $1 million – for a new elementary school with no obvious or documented contamination sources. Whereas 80 percent of students attending Aberdeen schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a little more than half of Southern Pines Elementary students do. The North Carolina average is 59 percent, according to state data. Half of students who attend Southern Pines are from communities of color; at Aberdeen, that figure is two-thirds.[…]
I guarantee that NONE of the decision-makers on this project will be sending their kids to this new Aberdeen school.
[…] Finding the right land in Moore County is more difficult than it looks by consulting a map. Much of the vacant land is consumed by golf courses, which are popular because of Pinehurst’s reputation as a golfing mecca that has hosted multiple U.S. Open tournaments. Growth in the northern part of the county is slower than in the southern part, such as Aberdeen, where military families are streaming in.
As part of a massive overhaul, in 2014 the school district hired the Operations and Research Education Laboratory at NC State University to suggest the best sites for several new schools. OREd, as it’s known, examined demographic and growth trends – not environmental factors. As illustrated by a series of large circles on a map, OREd recommended a site on NC-5, across from the old Pit Links Golf Course. “It was an optimal site location for a new school,” Birath said. “It was smack dab in the middle of the circle.”
Enter BVM Properties, which owns a lot of land in Moore County. BVM stands for Bernice V. Martin, widow of Robert Martin, a renowned eye surgeon in Pinehurst. Both have since died, and the property company is now managed by their son, also named Robert. BVM had been negotiating with a local residential developer, Birath said, “but the developer stepped away for a period of time.” During that hiatus, the broker for the property approached the school district. “We found that it was a very promising site,” Birath said.[….]
And then there were these lil’ ol’ things called Siting Guidelines issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency:
[…] The EPA siting guidelines, which are voluntary, are designed to protect students from pollution. The district, though, did not consult them, said Board of Education member Bruce Cunningham. He said he didn’t know about the guidelines until Policy Watch emailed him a copy. Nonetheless, Cunningham said that based on a consultant’s report, “I have complete confidence that our students will be environmentally protected.”[…]
[*”Because Dr. Bob told me so.”*]
[…] In choosing a new location, the EPA recommends that a school district convene a siting committee, composed of administrators, school board members, teachers and parents, to evaluate and rank several sites. But Moore County Schools convened only the members of the district staff and the superintendent. Nor did they consider any alternative sites.[…]
The siting process failed other EPA litmus tests:
- Transparency – In response to concerns about the proximity of former pesticide dumps to the site, the district paid $9,000 for an environmental assessment, conducted by Building & Earth. In that 2015 document, the firm acknowledged the assessment was not to be “construed to be comprehensive.” The EPA recommends that these assessments be released for “meaningful” public comment and engagement.The district did neither. Catherine Murphy, spokeswoman for the district, said she disclosed it to the local media and that it was presented to the Board of Education at a May 2017 meeting. She said she also provided the document “whenever it was requested.” But people can’t ask for what they don’t know exists.
- Fuel storage – Ferrell Gas sells and ships wholesale propane tanks by rail less than a quarter-mile from the school. An underground propane pipeline is less than a half-mile away.
- Walkability – NC-5 is a main thoroughfare between Pinehurst and Aberdeen, and a primary route for heavy trucks entering and leaving nearby manufacturing plants. A state Department of Transportation spokesman said the road will be widened to four lanes and include sidewalks, with construction bids opening in 2022. The road could be complete by 2024, four years after the school opens.The EPA recommends locating schools in walkable neighborhoods – not on the edge of town, like the new Aberdeen site – because kids need to exercise. A Moore County health report card showed that 20 percent of schoolchildren between kindergarten and ninth grade are overweight. Birath said walkable schools are “a challenge” for rural areas.Children aren’t walking to school now, Birath said, even though a tunnel runs beneath US 1 to eastern neighborhoods. Most of the children travel by school bus or by car with their parents, adding to the load of air pollutants.
- Hazardous waste sites – In addition to the Superfund pesticide dumps, another hazardous waste site, Parker-Zenith is about a mile from the school. Parker-Zenith repaired pumps for DuPont. The groundwater is contaminated with solvents and degreasers.
Where has the board of education BEEN ???