Halifax contaminated school site clean up needs $130K more, staff say

The final clean up of an old oil spill at a former school off St. Margarets Bay Road requires more money and more time, Halifax staff say.

Weather, large boulders delayed soil remediation at the former Clarence A. Beckett School site

On Friday, Halifax's audit and finance committee will discuss increasing a budget to clean up an old oil spill at a former school site. (CBC)

The final clean up of an old oil spill at a former school off St. Margarets Bay Road requires more money and more time, Halifax staff say.

The final part of the former Clarence A. Beckett School property on Fenerty Road was supposed to be cleaned up in November, but large boulders, weak house foundations and poor weather delayed the work, according to a report by Greg MacKay, project manager of Halifax's corporate facility design and construction department. 

MacKay is asking the audit and finance committee recommend regional council increase the project's budget by around $130,000 — most of which would be owed to the Halifax Regional School Board

"The school board had someone remediate the site. It wasn't done properly and that's why they're responsible for 90 per cent of the bill," councillor Stephen Adams said Saturday.

"This will remediate the site and clean it up 100 per cent."

The committee meets Friday. 

Several school board representatives could not be reached Saturday afternoon for comment.

Leak dates back to 1993

A fuel leak contaminated the soil back in 1993, MacKay said.

According to city hall minutes from almost 23 years ago, an alderman noted the school "had problems with underground oil spills" and "a number of parents are concerned about the safety of their children returning." She asked an environmental assessment be done.

That spill was believed to be cleaned up and the school closed, but further contamination was discovered in 2006, according to MacKay's report.

To restore the last of the contaminated land, a contract was hammered out with a homeowner eight years later, he said. 

This final section has proved difficult and council approved an extension to contractor Vector Demolition in November.

Rain, boulders delayed project

"Heavier than expected rainfall," "extremely compacted soil," as well as the large boulders and weak house structures pushed the work into the winter — an extra 12 weeks, MacKay said.

The approximate cost increases with HST include:

  • Longer work duration due to heavy rainfall — $50,000 for water treatment
  • Extremely compacted soil limiting equipment — $30,000 for labour
  • Underpinning for two homes — $20,000 for labour and materials
  • Large boulders — $20,000 for labour and materials
  • Working into the fall and winter — $10,00 for labour and materials

"Estimating soil remediation work is an imprecise exercise," MacKay said. 

Legal action possible if not cleaned 

Two more weeks are needed to wrap up replacing a large deck, fence and porch, placing grass sods and restoring a nearby park, MacKay said, which can't be done until the ground thaws.

The total remediation project will cost around $707,000 should the increase be approved. The municipality would be responsible for $70,700 of that. 

MacKay warns the private owner of the contaminated property could take legal action against the city if the site is not cleaned up — and that, he says, means more money.

Read MacKay's full report on soil remediation at the former Clarence A. Beckett School site:

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About the Author

Rachel Ward

Associate Producer

Rachel Ward is an experienced journalist with CBC News in Calgary. She specializes in investigative journalism. Her work has won awards, including a RTDNA Atlantic for data storytelling. Please send tips to rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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