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Soil remediation cost at former Lackawanna school could reach nearly $400,000

The New Lincoln Elementary School was demolished without fanfare this summer after years of standing vandalized and vacant in Lackawanna’s 1st Ward. Officials now face a soil remediation project with a price tag approaching $400,000.

The concern is expected to be addressed when the City Council meets for a regular session on Monday.

“Asbestos was removed from the building before demolition, but petroleum used for heating the building had leaked from tanks into the soil,” said Drew Shapiro, Lackawanna director of development. “The property is zoned residential and has to be cleaned up."

Demolition costs, meanwhile, totaled $978,000, said Shapiro.

“We didn’t have enough money to remediate the soil,” he said.

Remediation costs were pegged as $394,200 in Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski's letter Wednesday to the City Council. In the letter, Szymanski suggested the city apply for a Community Development Block Grant from Erie County to defray the remediation cost.

“The problem is the way the city was run when the steel plant was rolling,” Szymanski said. “The school was built in the '20s. Back then there was no environmental agency, and whatever poured out of those stacks eventually landed on the ground. Here we are once again paying for our forefathers’ actions.”

The school was built in 1925 on 2.1 acres on Dona Street near Route 5. It served as a school for more than six decades before it was sold in 1989 to the Friendship House. In 2007, the county foreclosed on the building and transferred ownership back to Lackawanna.

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“Half of the site is clean,” Shapiro said. “It’s the eastern part of the property that has the contamination. It’s the trucking and landfill costs [of remediation] that grab you. The trucks will be traveling to Chaffee or Youngstown.”

The Lincoln School site is not the only environmental cleanup bill the city faces.

The site of the new Family Dollar at 121 Ridge Road required remediation efforts in 2007 to prepare it for sale, according to Shapiro. That cleanup was part of an agreement with the state brokered by a former mayor, Shapiro said.

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The city entered into an environmental restoration agreement with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to remediate the brownfield site where the Family Dollar is located today, said Shapiro. As part of the agreement, the state funded 90 percent of the cleanup cost – or $109,953.54, he said.

The parcel was sold in November 2017, and the city’s reimbursement obligation of $71,131.09 kicked in, said Shapiro.

“This hit us like a ton of bricks,” the development director said.

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