Parents, teachers, and district residents urged the South Country School District to close the Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport — less than a mile from a Brookhaven Town landfill — amid concerns about potential environmental hazards.
Members of the community have complained of odors on school grounds near the 192-acre landfill on Horseblock Road in Yaphank, which the town is expected to close in about eight years.
“I am compelled not to allow my daughter to enter Frank P. Long,” said parent Thomas Schultz at a school board meeting Wednesday night at Bellport High School that was attended by more than 200 residents. Schultz said his 9-year-old daughter, an incoming fifth-grader, experienced headaches during her first year in the building.
“We don’t want to minimize that if our families are having a problem and students are sick. We want to rule out that it has anything to do with the school,” Cheryl Felice, the district’s board president, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “And we’re working diligently with the district and those families to see that we get that information to them.”
Felice said about 700 students are enrolled in the school, which serves grades 4 and 5.
District consultant Glenn Neuschwender, president of Enviroscience Consultants in Ronkonkoma, provided an update on recent testing, including the installation of new groundwater wells and future samplings to take place. The firm still has to review results of testing for other metals, hydrogen sulfides and volatile organic compounds, as well as materials in the groundwater.
The board will meet again on Aug. 16 to hear the final results of his firm’s review. “We are assessing every room,” he said, adding that the probe “is the most comprehensive investigation that has been performed on a school building” in the state and on Long Island.
Superintendent Joseph Giani wrote in a July 18 letter to district residents that testing results would be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting and identified three issues requiring corrective action, the result of past studies: the discovery of a damaged asbestos pipe insulation in a boiler room, a mold issue in one classroom, and elevated pesticide compound in a basement.
“Recently, some residents expressed concern regarding the school and the Brookhaven Landfill. It appears these concerns have been triggered by concerns expressed by teachers and some of the testing results,” Giani wrote in the letter. “Consequently, the board of education has authorized further testing at Frank P. Long, and directed administration to prepare options in the event the board chooses to close the school and relocate our fourth- and fifth graders.”
District officials have laid out various proposals on the district’s website. The most expensive option involves building a new school, costing $20 million to $25 million. Other proposals would result in a reduction of 36 full-time employees, such as increasing class sizes in kindergarten through eighth grade to reduce the number of classroom sections, and increasing class sizes in grades five through eight and eliminating kindergarten. Both plans would cost about $305,000.
Instituting split sessions in middle school would cost $1.4 million; leasing Tecumseh Elementary School, in the Sachem school district, would be about $1.37 million; and leasing portable classrooms would cost $3.1 million to $4.3 million.
Another option, installing a high-efficiency particulate air filter system at Long Intermediate School, costs $2 million to $3 million.
The tests ordered by district officials are examining mold, asbestos, volatile organic compounds, radon and particulate matter, among other compounds.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who wants the Brookhaven landfill to be closed, said “when you have a school next to a landfill, it’s never a good combination.”
Jack Krieger, a Brookhaven Town spokesman, said the town has capped 170 acres and is in the process of capping seven more so that 70 percent of the landfill would be capped. The state Environmental Facilities Corp. had built and operated the landfill until it transferred the site to the town in the early 1970s.