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Arsenic in soil adds delay to opening of Sag Harbor children's education center

A former Catholic school on Division Street in

A former Catholic school on Division Street in Sag Harbor is being turned into an early childhood education center. Credit: Veronique Louis

Arsenic was discovered in the soil at an under-construction Sag Harbor early childhood education center last spring and the project still does not have a completion date, the Sag Harbor school board learned earlier this month.

The contaminated soil and its removal were first publicly revealed during a Jan. 13 board meeting as members expressed frustration with the delayed overhaul of the former Stella Maris Regional Catholic School building.

Board members pressed a representative of the architecture firm IBI Group for an estimated finish date, which the architects were unable to provide. Board members noted that they recently believed the building would be turned over to the district with a punch list of to-be-completed items in December, a deadline that was not met.

“I’m just trying to be clear here because we’ve had so many meetings where what we believe was true and what we told the public was true, in fact, never happened,” said board member Chris Tice. “We don’t want to continue to have meetings where it ends and then we find out via an email that what we just talked about actually was false.”

The IBI representatives blamed the ongoing delays on contractor performance.

Voters in 2016 approved a $10.23 million bond to purchase and renovate the Division Street property, in a 736-595 vote. The project, once expected to be completed in 2018 and later thought to be open in time for the 2019-20 school year, has cost about $12.7 million and construction is in its final phase.

When finished, the building is expected to house the district’s prekindergarten classrooms, a licensed day care provider and a new early-intervention service at the former Catholic school, which first opened in 1877.

Earlier in the meeting, Tice asked when IBI notified the district about the contaminated soil. Representatives said the district was notified immediately after the spring discovery, though the board wasn’t told until the meeting.

District officials, through a spokeswoman, declined to say why the board was not notified of the arsenic contamination earlier.

Arsenic is a carcinogen that can predispose children to other health effects, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It is naturally occurring and can be breathed in through dust, although it typically impacts people through drinking water.

The district paid $31,695 to Renu Contracting & Restoration to remove and handle contaminated soil, according to a financial summary on the district’s website. IBI representatives told the board at the meeting that they believed pressure-treated lumber leached the compound into the soil.

Interim Superintendent Eleanor Tritt said in a letter to the community Thursday that the district would continue to monitor the arsenic issue and was taking it seriously.

“Currently, the district has been made aware by experts in the industry that the small trace amount is not uncommon for soil of its kind in the local area,” Tritt wrote. “The Board of Education is currently reviewing its options and has requested additional information prior to making any decisions."

Sag Harbor Learning Center

  • May 2016: Residents approved a $10.23 million bond to purchase and renovate the former Stella Maris Regional Catholic School
  • Spring 2019: Contractors find and remove soil contaminated with arsenic
  • Project costs have grown to $12.7 million
  • Had been expected to open for the 2019-20 school year
  • When completed: Will house prekindergarten classes and a day care provider

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