RIDEM approves proposed remedy for MMS ground contamination issue

Small north end area will be capped with no future construction taking place

By Mike Rego
Posted 6/13/24

EAST PROVIDENCE — The Martin Middle School renovation project is again able to move forward full bore after a plan to deal with soil contamination at the Brown Street site was approved by state …

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RIDEM approves proposed remedy for MMS ground contamination issue

Small north end area will be capped with no future construction taking place


EAST PROVIDENCE — The Martin Middle School renovation project is again able to move forward full bore after a plan to deal with soil contamination at the Brown Street site was approved by state authorities.

Typical prep work earlier this year while readying the 48-year-old building/campus for its near complete remodeling revealed ground contaminants at the north end of the site adjacent to the old parking lot, black-top basketball court and grassy area where informal athletics and gatherings were held near Bliss Street.

At the June 11 School Committee meeting, District Facilities Director Chris Murphy said the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has given its approval to a plan derived by SAGE Environmental, the firm hired to test and review the situation, to remedy the situation. No further construction will take place on the approximately 100 yard x 50 yard area.

Of most import to the timeline of the project, Murphy said the decision will clear the way for further preparation and subsequent pouring throughout the summer of concrete foundation footings and pads to support the new three-story classroom addition to the existing structure on the north end.

Plan details
Now that the situation can and will be addressed, it appears as though any health concerns associated with the MMS project will be assuaged.

Administrators held a meeting with worried building staff last month specifically to address any fears or preconceived notions about their potential exposure to hazardous substances at the Brown Street location.

Superintendent Dr. Sandra Forand and Murphy were joined by representatives of Shawmut, the lead contractor on the $118 million MMS construction enterprise, as well as the Peregrine Group, the district's project manager, and SAGE, the Providence-based consultancy firm brought into the fold by Shawmut to conduct testing at the site for several weeks. Several district employees were in the audience.

Jacob Butterworth, Vice President and a Senior Project Manager at SAGE, led an overview of the situation, presenting the findings of an extensive examination of the area abutting Bliss Street. The contaminated soil was found at what was previously throughout the decades a working farm and a non-sanctioned dumping site for discarded materials before the school was built there in the mid-1970s.

Upon discovery, Shawmut immediately halted any further excavation at the spot. The contractor notified RIDEM and later procured the services of SAGE to diagnose the situation.

In the meantime, the staff at Martin and residents in the surrounding neighbored were understandably alarmed after finding out they were working and/or living in an area where possible hazardous materials were imbedded in the soil.

Butterworth emphasized that some sort of hazardous material, mostly at negligible levels of impact to health and safety, are found at nearly all projects of the MMS type and on sites similar to it. According to Murphy quoting the SAGE executive, the findings of firm's tests were "un-fantastic."

The need to report to RIDEM was because of the state's strict environmental regulations, which are considered to be some of the most stringent in the country. As an example, the testing found traces of the mineral arsenic, which was noted as being both a naturally occurring element in the ground but also a component of fertilizer used for farming like what was done at the MMS for decades prior.

The arsenic tested at a level seven parts per billion, one higher than the maximum of six PPB allowable in Rhode Island. By contrast, Massachusetts does not require the reporting of arsenic levels below 20 PPB.

The experts noted it would take several years of near constant close contact with the substances to be debilitating or detrimental to one's health.

Also as part of the discussion, Shawmut presented the plan it submitted to RIDEM to fix the situation. The ground will not be any further significantly disturbed. Rather, much like is done at landfill sites, the location will be completely layered with clean soil and capped to encase the potentially harmful substances.

One teacher in the room at the May meeting who wished not to be identified was appreciative of the efforts made by the administration and its representatives, saying they were "very comfortable" with the information provided to staff in the report and in particular knowing nothing would be constructed on that particular part of the property.

More project notes
On another matter of significance to the MMS project, District Finance Director Craig Enos also addressed the School Committee at the June 11 forum, telling the body the District Building Committee had approved a revision to the proposed new entryway for busses into the complex. Rather than using an entrance off of Bliss Street, the new pattern will once again utilize Brown Street where transportation ingress and egress has occurred since the school was built back in the mid-1970s.

Lastly as it pertains to the new MMS grounds, members of the administration and the School Committee expressed their strong support for finding a new spot to construct a replacement outdoor basketball court.

Ward 4 Committee member Jessica Beauchaine said her suggestion of place the court on the south end of the property closer to Valleybrook Drive was rejected because of its close proximity to the Pre-Kindergarten playground.

As a reminder, the entire district Pre-K program will be moving into a dedicated south end section of the new MMS upon the project's completion in two years. The majority of Pre-K classrooms were housed at Martin for the last several years before the program as a whole moved to the Oldham/Meadowbrook Early Learning Center in Riverside in time for the the 2023-24 term. Again, Pre-K will remain there until the MMS project is concluded for the 2026-27 term.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.