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January 31, 2012 - 6:05pm

The Le Roy High School property: Rumors and research

posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy.

Three rumors regarding the Le Roy High School property on South Street Road have persisted since news became public of a group of girls developing tic symptoms late last year.

We've attempted to research these rumors and here's what we've been able to find out so far.

Rumor: The school was built on a swamp. Apparently false. Aerial maps going back to 1938 show the area of the school is flat and dry. By 1967 it more clearly looks like farmland. Even the swamp currently to the west of the school building doesn't appear on the map. By 1974, there is some sign of a drainage ditch going into the area of the present swamp/drainage pond. The area immediately southwest of the track becomes progressively wooded over the decades. The 1995 NAPP Infrared Map shows the area of the school building looking like farmland, with not much of a marsh, if any, to the west, and the wooded area south of the track is heavily wooded. The 2002 map (top photo) shows the school under construction.

Rumor: TCE-laced fill dirt was used under the school or under athletic fields. Probably false. School construction does not require local permitting, so local planning agencies have no documentation on the construction of the school  We have a request in with the NYS Department of Education for any information the state's construction records might retain on this topic. However, again, the aerial views going back to 1938 show a flat area and no sign that the area was a swamp, so why would fill even be needed? Also, the train wreck site shows no signs of massive amounts of material being removed from that site.

Rumor: The school district turned down an offer of free property for a new school and purchased the current property from the brother of a school board member. Mostly true. Below is a list of each parcel that makes up the school property. Local attorney E. Robert Fussell confirmed that he offered property he owned from Woodward Drive, behind the houses on South Street, going south. Fussell thought the school should be built in the village and this property would be in walking distance of the elementary school and district building. The board instead decided to buy land to the south of its athletic fields on South Street Road. Some of the land was owned by Emily B. Pangrazio and Donald M. Pangrazio Jr. Ron Pangrazio was president of the school board at the time (we couldn't find current contact information for Pangrazio).

Parcel 31.-1-110: North end of the school property which contains athletic fields, including the school's track and football stadium. The district acquired the property Aug. 20, 1952 from Edward and Jessie Spry. According to GIS maps, the first signs of athletic use appears in 1963, when a track and field oval appears. The oval is not on the 1954 aerial map.

Parcel 31.-1-101: This parcel is off Summit Street and has been referred to "the town park." The parking area is where the media staged last Saturday morning. It's actually school district property.  The district acquired the 27.5-acre parcel Sept. 30, 1982, from Jessie Eckler (formerly Spry).

Parcel 31.-1-99.12: This is the parcel with a baseball diamond immediately west of the school building. It is six acres. The land was acquired for $35,000 from Irene Walters on Nov. 1, 2000.

Parcel 31.-1.136: The actual school building sits on this 23-acre parcel. It was acquired for $108,000 from the Pangrazio family on Oct. 20, 2000.

Parcel 31.-1-36: This parcel is nearly nine acres and contains a maintenance building, part of the school parking lot and a retention pond. It's north of the school. The property was obtained from the Hansen family for $120,000 on Oct. 26, 2000.

Tyler Hall
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I applaud the research.....BUT.....it's a swamp. I only felt the urge to comment, because it's like feeling the heat next to the fire. But someone says the fire isn't there because they don't see smoke. The same people who build boats, probably had input on how to build the school.......because its deff on water.

Rachel Hayward
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the "town park" that you are referring to in parcel 31.-1-101 is actually called Bunell Park and is where the soccer fields are during the summer. I've personally played in those fields where the school was built and it may not have been a swamp but it was certainly very wet whenever we were out there.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Anyone who has played or has had kids play soccer on those fields knows how wet it is. If I remember correctly it was worse in the beginning. What I find interesting is that no one seems to care that Attorney Fussell (a published environmentalist) offered a free piece of land to the District and rather than accept that piece of land, the Distric paid almost a quarter of a million dollars for a piece of land that came directly from the family of the President of the Board of Education. Call me crazy but that sounds like a totally unethical use of our tax dollars. And as LeRoyans know, the tax rate through the roof.

Howard B. Owens
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The district paid $108,000 for the one parcel that was owned by the Pangrazio family.

Ted Wenzka
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With all this talk and barbs thrown back and forth I have a great idea.
Close the existing school immediately and send the students to Byron-Bergen, Batavia, etc. and build a new school on the highest ground available. This eliminates all problems now and in the future.

Beth Kinsley
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The three parcels of land that were purchased in the fall of 2000 came to over a quarter million dollars when Attoreny Fussell was offering land for free?

matt riggi
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This is a topic that has been debated everyday since it was even thought of. Everyone in town knows the story behind it, everyone has their own opinion on it. There's nothing that can be done to change how the new school came to be. Whats important is finding answers from here. This town is divided and all people want to do is point fingers. That does not help these girls or the residents of the community. In fact, it has created so much more stress for the students. I hope the EPA is held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, and a healthy resolution is reached asap!

Rachel Hayward
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I may have been misleading when I said that I played in those fields and it was wet. I was referring to the actual field that the school was built on. There was never a soccer field on the land where the school was built. As for the soccer fields being wet, never have they been wet unless there was rain for a few days. If anything our soccer fields were too dry and they had to have sprinkler systems out there watering our fields since the grass was dying.

Judith Kinsley ...
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I suppose it depends on what fields we're talking about here. Regardless, the entire process has been suspect from day one. No Matt, I had no idea until this weekend who were the parties involved with the "land deal." Anyone would have to wonder why there? And if it is a problem with the building and where it is built, it is relevant.

matt riggi
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Judith- Don't get me wrong, I agree with you that this is very suspect. There's no denying that. But to come to a conclusion, and point the finger at anybody based on a small piece of information taken from a large set of data is unfair. Debating why the school was built there doesn't help the situation. You're absolutely right that where the school was built is relevant, but to debate why it was built there doesnt help the situation at hand. I was not part of the board when the deal was done nor did I actively participate in anything to do with the deal. There are a lot of questions to answer when making a decision like this, and I personally don't have the answers to any of those questions. As for this debate being ongoing, I have heard this debated over and over in local restaurants/bars and shops since it happened. It seems common knowledge to me because I have heard it debated by so many people from so many different groups for so long.

Dan Horgan
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The research that Howard has done here on the history of why the school is located where it is, and the politics that went along with it, is not new to the people of this area. If you research the LeRoy Pennysaver and Daily News archives from this timeframe you will find many public forums and comments on this topic. It was a hot topic of debate during the planning of this facility. However someone new to the district post 2000 it likely is new information to them. While I question the relevance, if you are new it would bring you up to speed on what others already know. So while we can't change the past, the building is where it is. Same with the Gulf Road train derailment. If you research the archives you will find that in the 90's there were many articles written and public forums on the cleanup and remediation process for what was being done for that site and the impacted area. So while it is new information to recent residents, it has been well known to people before 2000. There is an article and video feed of some of the residents of the plume affected area on the RNews website today. I would encourage the readers to watch that video, it provides a balanced perspective to some of the other coverage out there.

Howard B. Owens
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Here's the piece referenced by Dan.

http://batavia.ynn.com/content/top_stories/572125/family-says-toxic-plum...

My purpose in putting this together was just try to get some actual facts out there for people that don't know or have forgotten some of the details.

matt riggi
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good link, Howard. Can't believe they told the residents they were on their own.

Lisa M. Compton
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I have been very well acquainted with many of the issues brought up here, having been both on the local environmental board (CAC, not too active now) and school committees very involved in the creation of the present high school. I also live really near the site and am on the area watershed committee (OCWC).

The school site had been farmland. I know a guy who used to do some corn there. It wasn't horribly swampy, though there is fair amount of water that runs through the area, and after a heavy rain or melt, there are a couple of squashy areas more toward Summit Street. The small culverts and stream on and near the property drain primarily to the north east, away from the school. So it can get a bit wet and I suppose the hard surfaces of the building and parking lots can exacerbate the 'swampyness' of the those already wet areas. Some of my more middle aged friends have told me they used to ice skate around there sometimes as kids.

I don't think everyone will ever be totally happy about the location, and there was a lot of compromise involved in siting the school. We wanted (as a group) for the school to be within walking distance from the Village, and convenient to the playing fields. Even though Mr. Fussell had a very generous offer and his property was in the Village proper (it was my favorite site), there were considerable problems with that particular parcel. Some families in the Woodward Drive "development" voiced opposition to it, it was landlocked without room for expansion and there were problems with access roads - the expansion issue probably being one of the biggest factors in turning the Fussell parcel down. School officials were also rather leery about having kids cross South Street on the way to the practice fields, because there didn't used to be any sort of traffic controls located on South Street at the time (there is now a stop sign at South and Exchange - though kids probably wouldn't come all the way to the intersection to cross even if it had been installed at the time).

Also, at the time the facility was built, the Lehigh Valley spill was very well known, and most certainly if any 'fill' was used, it would be highly unlikely that these materials would come from a well known contaminated site. If it was indeed used, the people must've been idiots. But it is also curious to me that it wouldn't have affected students before now, especially since there were some initial water problems when the school first opened - (and I guess there still are?). Also, for years while walking to and from the school, I have seen frogs and toads in the ditch that runs along South Street Road. Seems like if there was serious contamination, these 'indicator species' would not be there. And as far as ground water contamination, as others have noted, the Lehigh plume traveling around in the limerock would not affect the school property.

Regarding some of the surrounding "park" land. I remember some of this property was given to the Town to create a tree sanctuary park - which is what Bunell Park was supposed to have been. There was some confusion as to whether it actually was supposed to be given to the Village or the Town - something in an error in naming the correct municipality and there was some funding advantage for the Village and Town to team up with the school and so part of it became athletic fields and part was to be dedicated to a tree park.

Daniel Neal
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Tyler , Please show me the research you have done to show it is a swamp , and please tell me how you can disprove Aerial Photographic Maps dating back to 1938 , there was no reason for your comment , and i know i am going to get downvoted because lately all the people that have said stuff that makes sense get downvoted because the people that are "right" do not agree with them , oh well , btw good job with all the research Howard , amazing what kind of rumors old Aerial Maps can put an end too , cant argue with concrete visual proof

Howard B. Owens
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Lisa, thanks for all of the first-hand information. Very interesting reading.

matt riggi
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Dan- I've never done any research, but I knew people who swam there before the school was built. I know it gets very wet, and that's evidenced by the cracking foundation, which is supposedly from the school actually sinking. Whether it is actually classified as a swamp, I don't believe so, but certainly very wet land.

Lisa M. Compton
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@ #18

"but I knew people who swam there before the school was built".

Interesting! Where was this?

matt riggi
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Right where the school is. Before it was built, obviously. I should probably note that this wasn't a regular "swim." I mean, people weren't out there doing laps every Saturday. I think it was one time when it was really wet and there was enough water to hop in.

Lisa M. Compton
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Matt, I was assuming it before the school was there because you said "before the school was built"! I was just surprised is all. But you mean they swam right where the building is now? That area is the highest and dries part of the property - which is why the building was put there. If it was in that area specifically, could it possibly have been when we had that big flood and the Oatka really surged? That was an unusually wet time! Was it possibly in the ditch near there? It's a pretty deep ditch!

Judith Kinsley ...
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Thanks for the information Lisa, it's appreciated. Maybe you are the one to ask the following and maybe not but I'm going to: 1) Is it true that the original foundation of the new school sunk into the ground and another had to be pored on top? 2) Is it true that there are cracks in the walls from faulty construction? 3) Was the school closed for a certain number of days in the first year due to leaking from the roof and from the ground? 4) Does the roof continue to leak? I have seen pictures taken inside classrooms with waterstains on the ceiling and am wondering why. 5) Was there a lawsuit bought against the general contractor for faulty work? I realize that you may not be the one to ask and that there was already mold testing done, but I have researched how insidious mold can be and how harmful to our health and am having a hard time getting answers.

matt riggi
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Not sure of the exact time frame. It wasn't in the ditch. I don't know the precise location, I could dig up the photos and get back to you. My point was, it is definitely wet land.

Daniel Neal
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Matt , not disagreeing that it is wet land , i have never been to the site myself , but just because it is wet land does not mean it was a swamp , the back yard at our farm gets basically flooded to the point where the mower sinks , happens every year from the time the snow melts till about mid july , the way the property lays it just collects water , only happens in one portion of the yard , from the back of the barn to the hedgerow , you can barely walk across it , can the school site be very wet land and not properly draining , yes , but that does not make it a swamp

matt riggi
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"Whether it is actually classified as a swamp, I don't believe so"...exactly what I was saying, Dan.

Lisa M. Compton
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Judith @ #22

I'm afraid I am not going to be particularly helpful regarding those specific questions about the construction of the building. I don't remember clearly about what happened with the foundation during construction, seems like there may have been some issues, but if the foundation had problems with settling after the building was constructed, it certainly didn't manifest itself that I could see. The terrazzo/floors seemed to be fine, and I don't remember anything about cracks in the walls. Additionally, I can't remember my daughter staying home that first year for any odd reasons (she would've liked it, I'm sure). Perhaps I will ask her about it. However, just because I don't remember doesn't mean these conditions didn't exist.

I do remember some issues with it being wet/muddy out behind the auditorium in the parking area, especially before all the road work/ parking / landscaping was complete. And I remember it smelled sort of unusual near the bathrooms across from the office.

I haven't been involved much with the school or in the building since my daughter graduated over six and a half years ago, so I can't really speak to any current conditions.

The only lawsuit for shoddy workmanship I remember clearly concerned what is now the elementary school /district offices. When the high school was still located there, there was a big renovation, and the district sued over some really bad plumbing work that caused damage.

I am thinking your best bet for this information would be from taking a look at past budgets and school board meeting minutes (both public documents - though you might need a FOI request?) or ask one of your school board members to find the information for you. One problem is that many of the people who were involved in the project at the time, both administrators and teachers, are gone now, and the new folks don't really have the information at their fingertips.

Howard B. Owens
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The idea that engineers would approve construction on a site where the foundation so readily would sink doesn't make a lot of sense to me, so today when I ran into an engineer I know, I asked him about it.

He said there would have been several tests run on the site before construction was started, with soil samples being taken deep into the ground and compression tests among them.

It simply makes no logical sense that construction would have taken place where the foundation could sink that easily, and if it was that sort of location, settling problems would now be easily visible -- cracked floors, cracked walls, doors out of joint -- and their not (the engineer I spoke with knows the building).

The state is in charge of school construction. In NY, where schools are palaces and no expense is spared for "our kids," no matter how much it costs taxpayers, do you really think a second-rate job would have been performed on construction of this school (one mostly paid for by the state)?

The school was built on solid ground.

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