Additional underground fuel tanks, contamination found at proposed central office site
SALISBURY — Additional underground fuel tanks and soil contamination have been found at the proposed site of the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s central office in downtown Salisbury, but the city won’t have to shell out extra funds for the cleanup.
“The unknown orphan tanks that were not documented required more dirt to be removed than originally expected, which accounts for the large hole you see on South Main,” said Salisbury City Manager Doug Paris.
Salisbury City Council committed to cleaning up the site when three buried gas tanks and some soil contamination was first discovered in October.
The city, which bought the site in 2007 from Holding Brothers, is donating the land at 329 S. Main St. and providing parking for the project.
The initial contamination findings came as a surprise.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) filed a letter of no further action on the site in 1991, indicating that it had cleared the property after seven storage tanks were removed.
DENR has been working with city officials to address the cleanup.
“The city will be paying a $20,000 deductible, with the state picking up the remainder of the abatement costs,” Paris said. “Due to the amount of dirt needed to be removed, and then the same amount of clean dirt to be refilled, and compacted for a building, we estimate it could be multiple six figures, but it is too early to tell.”
The initial expected cost of cleanup was between $30,000 and $35,000.
Paris said he expects to have specific numbers about the total cost of cleanup by the time City Council meets in January.
DENR officials have been helping the city return the land to productive use, Paris said.
“We were so appreciative of DENR,” he said. “They understood the importance of the central school office project and became partners in the cleanup.”
Although the central office project remains in limbo, Paris stands by the decision to clean up the lot, which is at the corner of Horah and South Main streets.
“If we don’t go in there and clean it up, it will always be an eyesore,” he said.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted earlier this month to hold off on the central office project for 60 days to allow for time to meet with the school board.
The school board voted 5-2 this month to move forward with the plans to build downtown, but decided to go back to the original plan to construct a 62,000-square-foot building that will house all departments.
New school board chairman Dr. Richard Miller has called a stakeholders meeting, inviting City Council and commission members, to discuss the project Jan. 3.
Jim Sides, chairman of the county board, has said he will not attend the meeting.
The project will end up back in front of commissioners, who are being asked to take out a loan that the district plans to pay back using sales tax dollars allocated for capital projects.
If building the central office downtown doesn’t go through, Paris said the lots can be used for something else.
“We want the site to be properly cleaned so that something nice, something the community can be proud of, can be built there,” he said. “This has to be taken care of because five years from now we want to make this block look like Easy Street.”
Paris said the lot where Animal Care Center West is currently being constructed had similar contamination issues.
“The old dirt was removed, clean dirt brought in, compacted, and now we have a beautiful vet clinic going on top,” he said. “New tax base, new commerce, and a more convenient location for our citizens that have furry friends that live on the West side of town.
“Without all that work, that site would have remained an eyesore on a major thoroughfare in our city.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.