Far on the edge of campus, past the solemn stones of Indian Hill and the raucous houses of Fountain, under the plastic green of Smith Field and the brick walls of the Cady Building, the soil has shifted. A large remediation program is currently underway on the two parcels of land divided by Long Lane Road, the site of a former correctional school. The facility, named the Connecticut Industrial School for Girls, was founded in 1870 as a reform facility for girls. The school was privately owned until 1921, when ownership transferred to the State of Connecticut. The school was home to its own coal-burning power station and an orchard (treated with pesticides), both of which resulted in heavy pollution on school grounds.
The school was merged with the Connecticut School for Boys in the 1972-1973 fiscal year, two years after the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (CT DCF) was founded in order to manage child services and juvenile detention centers. The school’s occupancy swelled beyond its original intentions, and the buildings showed signs of great wear and tear; proposals drafted in 1991 suggested renovations for the school.
The state ran cost-benefit analysis regarding renovation, and found that the proposals would require much more than simply demolishing the school and rebuilding. The University bought the land in 2000, and the Long Lane School was demolished after the state’s lease ran out a few years later.
“The entire site is going through remediation because it was polluted by the state during its use as a school,” said Director of Physical Plant Alan Rubacha, the project manager for the property.
On the east side of Long Lane, coal plants produced thousands of tons of ash over the decades, which was used as filler underneath pathways and roads as well as to fill ditches around the property, resulting in pockets of heavy soil contamination. However, ash is not the only contaminant. In addition to area-specific contaminants, such as increased levels of leachable chromium around the old Paint Shop of the Long Lane School (as it was known from 1943 onwards), the soil west of Long Lane is contaminated with various pesticides, including dieldrin, DDT, DDE, and chlorine.
Initially, the University expected to be finished remediating the site in 2006 and to begin development of the site the following year. However, it soon became clear that the property was more polluted than anyone had previously thought. There were deposits of various chemicals and metals; the highest offenders were arsenic, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The health risks associated with these offenders are listed in a United States Department of Health and Human Services recommendation on the Long Lane site. Arsenic can cause discoloration of skin, warts, boils, lung irritation, damage to blood vessels, decreased production of blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, nausea, cancer, infant mortality, and death. Lead can cause decreased nervous system functions; weakness in fingers, wrists, and ankles; blood pressure increase; brain damage; anemia; kidney damage; sterility; miscarriage; and death. PAHs have no known impact on human health, but have been shown to cause birth defects, sterility, detrimental effects on skin, and weakening of the immune system in animals.
According to a study put together by the University’s contract for the remediation project, the concentrations of the most prevalent metals and PAHs mostly adhered to state standards, but the concentrations of arsenic (10ppm as compared to a 7.62ppm average), lead (400ppm/303ppm average), and dibenzoanthracene (1ppm /0.93ppm average) all exceeded the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) standards.
However, while these findings may exceed regulatory standards in certain pockets, the soil contamination on site is below these standards. There were significant findings in the soil of barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, silver, and pesticides, but most are beneath the Remediations Standard Regulations (RSRs) enforced by the state.
The groundwater on the site contains traces of barium, arsenic, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, and pesticides below RSR criteria. It has been declared as unfit for human consumption.
The University set the criteria for soil removal at that which contained over five percent ash, due to a finding by HRF that connected ash percentage to chemical concentration.
“We’ve removed 150,000 tons of ash from the site and 30,000 tons of lead arsenate,” Rubacha said.
The contaminated soil was stored on campus in great concrete bins; three-sided rooms built of concrete blocks placed around the path from the Physical Plant to Wadsworth Street. The bins now stand mostly empty, with the contaminated soil taken to the nearby city of Waterbury to be incinerated.
The first stage of soil remediation is 99 percent complete, 11 years after it first began. The next stage calls for the diluting of the pesticide-contaminated soil of Parcel B with clean earth, a process recommended by the CT DEEP.
The short cleanup anticipated by the Board of Trustees has become a multi-decade process expected to last another 10 years, reaching a final tally of $40 million. The state is paying for the remediation process. Indeed, Connecticut plays a large role in the cleanup, overseeing the process and issuing recommendations (along with reimbursing the University).
“They’re the ones who polluted it, after all,” Rubacha said.
So, what plans does the University have for the property after the cleanup is finally finished, many years and many dollars later? According to the “Long Lane Property Land Use Study” by Sasaki Associates, Inc., there are several main contenders. The University could keep the lot free for future development of academic centers, which Sasaki advises against, noting the lack of need for such facilities and available space closer to the rest of campus. It could also deed the land to the city of Middletown, allowing the city to open a park or school on the grounds. Though this may make the city happy, Sasaki Inc. notes the complete lack of financial return on the land, which cost the University $16 million to buy in 2000 and has had other costs associated with it since then.
A third option, using the land commercially, projects a profit of $6.7 million, but Sasaki warns against this, too. Though a hotel or an office center may provide cashflow to the University, Sasaki insists that the University should not use the property solely for profit.
What Sasaki does recommend, however, is finding a balance between the University’s pursuit of profit and the desire to uphold its core values. A retirement community could be built west of Long Lane, with a small parcel of about eight acres open to worthy civic projects. East of the road, there would be open space and several new sports fields.
Similar retirement communities have brought colleges such as Oberlin and Dartmouth much acclaim, as retirement communities boost area ties while bringing in profit and meeting University values (much more so than, say, building a cellular tower or a driving range among other proposals).
Still to be seen, however, is how clairvoyant this dated report is. Thirteen years have passed since the company issued it to the University, and the backhoes continue to dig.
When asked if the University had any plans for the lot in the near future, Rubacha had only this to say: