Edison BOE decides against new elem. school

Board cites concern over contamination, space needs


The Edison Township Board of Education (BOE) decided against building a new elementary school on a 5-acre parcel of land off Jackson Avenue, which would have been part of an overall redevelopment of the site.

The decision, made during the board’s Oct. 16 meeting, did not even reach the point where a vote would be taken. After many members of the board voiced their concerns and reservations regarding the potential school site, Vice President Joseph Romano simply asked whether there was anyone who actually did support the idea. When no one spoke up, the matter died.

The owner of the property, Kaplan Companies, received approval this past summer to build a set of small warehouses on half of the site. The firm was planning to do its construction in two phases, with an expansion planned for the second phase if talks with township officials yielded no further use for the site. Besides the school, other possibilities that have been suggested include open space or a park.

While the idea of placing a school on the northern half of the 11-acre Jackson Avenue site had been discussed at length first during the redevelopment hearings with the Township Council and then during the site plan hearings with the Planning Board, the district ultimately decided against using the area for an elementary school, due to industrial contamination that had been found there. Board members felt that building an elementary school on the site could endanger the safety of the students.

“Why are we even entertaining putting an elementary school where there are contaminants?” asked board member Susan Scerbo. “I would never put an elementary school on that property.”

According to a report dated Sept. 12, 2008, by Brockerhoff Environmental Services, addressed to the owners of the Jackson Avenue property, in 2003 the site was found to have significant concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) — chemical compounds especially prone to turning into vapors — in the soil, as well as the chlorinated hydrocarbons of trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, in the ground water. The 2003 tests also showed the presence of arsenic that was slightly above state standards for water quality. In 2008, tests showed that the VOC levels had gone down to acceptable levels and that the two chlorinated hydrocarbons had decreased as well. However, two new metals, beryllium and lead, were also detected in levels above state standards.

A report prepared for the BOE by the engineering firm Remington, Vernick and Vena also stated that in their own tests, they found that waste and debris could be detected between 2 1/2 to 6 feet below the ground surface.

The report noted that while the light industrial uses that the owner is currently pursuing with the Jackson Avenue parcel is a good idea for that area, the environmental standards for uses such as residences or schools are significantly more strict, and so placement of an elementary school might be more problematic from a bureaucratic perspective.

The report stated that the district, should it decide to move forward on building the school, would first need to spend at least six to 12 months just getting permission and input from various regulatory agencies such as the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection before work on the building could even be considered. During this time, the district would also need to enact an environmental remediation program, cleaning the soil and ground water and testing for further contamination.

“It may take several years to acquire the site and complete an approvable design for constructing a school at this site,” the report concludes.

The opinion of the board was overwhelmingly against the idea of placing a school on the site.

“If we’re going to spend millions to buy a property, we should at least acquire a property that’s clean,” said board member Gene Maeroff.

Acting Superintendent John Dimuzio also said that in addition to the environmental concerns, the site is much too small for a school.