Urbana school construction on hold while landfill issue remains

A plan to build a kindergarten-eighth grade building on Community Drive in Urbana remains on hold, and no work is now expected in the upcoming summer construction season, Urbana’s superintendent said this week.

In the meantime, the Urbana City School District is still waiting for data on a decades-old municipal landfill to determine whether the project can eventually take place there, said Charles Thiel, superintendent for the district.

The district is keeping an eye out for alternatives in the meantime, he said, but that will also be a challenge.

“One of the issues is finding something that’s suitable,” Thiel said. “Right now, we have a good portion of our school designed, and it was designed for the site that we have. We can’t really go through a major redesign of the building.”

The problem arose after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about the proposed school’s proximity to the landfill earlier this year. EPA officials raised questions whether the school would be too close to the landfill, and if methane gas or other contamination could reach the site.

The school site would be about 400 feet from the property line next to the landfill.

Hull and Associates Inc,, a consulting firm with several offices in Ohio, is working with the city to gather more data on the landfill and determine what it might cost to meet each of the EPA’s concerns to ensure methane gas does not migrate off the property. Officials from that company could not be reached for comment.

In the meantime, district officials continue to review and update plans for the interior of the proposed building, Thiel said. But until more data or a timeline is available regarding the landfill, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission has halted site development work. That pushes the project’s timeline back about six months, he said.

“What that really means when they put the breaks on that was that this summer is lost as a construction season for us,” Thiel said.

The city has worked with the EPA since the landfill closed and is in compliance all regulations, said Kerry Brugger, Urbana director of administration.

“This isn’t anything new,” Brugger said. “It’s just unfortunate that this became a reality.”

The city plans to have data available from Hull and Associates later this month, Brugger said.

The district is also planning a new high school on the site of the current junior and senior high buildings that will retain the castle portion of the facility. The original plan called for both the K-8 building and high school being complete around the same time for the start of the 2018-2019 school year, Thiel said. It’s possible the high school building will move forward first now.

“What we’re looking at is what can we do with the high school to bring that plan forward and get that started earlier than what we anticipated,” he said.