Is land that previously housed gas and diesel tanks safe for a future school or athletic fields?
That’s the main crux behind a $27,000 environmental site assessment that the Hatboro-Horsham School Board authorized Tuesday night. To be carried out by Gilmore and Associates, the two-phase study will determine if petroleum or other hazardous chemicals have impacted soil or groundwater at the former Army Reserve Center on Route 611.
“That land is going to be acquired by the school district,” Superintendent Curtis Griffin said. “The Army will do an environmental study and will take a look at the property for its present use … they’re not going to do additional work to remedy the hotspots.”
Officials have said that the government’s only obligation in transferring the land “as-is” to Hatboro-Horsham School District is to ensure that the property is cleaned up to a level consistent with its previous activities when in use by the military.
Those uses, according to Gilmore and Associate’s proposal, included the maintenance of military vehicles, office administration and an indoor firing range - far different uses than those consistent with schools and playing fields for children.
Bob Reichert, Hatboro-Horsham's director of business affairs, said the district has not set a timeframe for completion of the study. The clock is ticking, however, on what the district intends to do with the land.
Within the next 30 to 60 days, Reichert said the board would likely need to recertify its intended use for the property. Initially, the district envisioned using the property to house a bus garage and playing fields. But, earlier this month, district officials said it might be better used as the site for a new elementary school to replace 50-year-old Hallowell Elementary, which would be demolished.
Because Hallowell is a prefab building, was put together in pieces, is not energy efficient and is well into its 50 to 60-year building life, Reichert said that school, of all the district facilities, would make the most sense to tear down and build anew.
Officials have said that acquiring the land for any other use than a new school would cost $300,000. If Hatboro-Horsham amends its plan from playing fields to new school construction – and follows through – the property would be transferred to the district free of charge.
Should the environmental assessment uncover potentially dangerous issues, or safety concerns warranting an expensive cleanup, Reichert said the district would not necessarily be on the hook.
“You’re not locked in,” he said. “There’s an expectation that you follow through on the plan.”