School trustees reject public meeting to discuss Forster school sale

Trustee Jessica Sartori wanted the Greater Essex County District School Board to hold a public meeting to discuss the sale that saw the Forster site sold to one company and then flipped to the the owners of the Ambassador Bridge in late December.

No need to inform the public about fuel contamination, says board trustee, because school was closed

School trustee is calling for public meeting to discuss the controversial sale of the former J.L. Forster high school property.

School trustees still have little to say about fuel contamination at the former J.L. Forster high school and the controversial sale of the west-end property for $1.2 million.

The Greater Essex County School Board on Tuesday night narrowly rejected a proposal to meet with Windsor residents to discuss the deal that saw the Forster land end up in the hands of the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

Trustee Jessica Sartori said she wanted the board to "be leaders" and hold a public meeting about the Forster site. Even though she managed to garner support from four other trustees, those numbers weren't enough. Her motion was defeated in a 5-5 tie vote.

"I'm disappointed that we are not going to have a board-sanctioned meeting," she said. "A public board meeting would have been preferred."

School board chairwoman Connie Buckler did not support a public meeting.

Greater Essex County School District Board chairwoman Connie Buckler did not support holding public meeting to discuss sale of old J.L. Forster high school.

"We did the right thing," she said. "Standing before a hurting community is not going to change that. I can't answer anything further and neither can anyone else on this board."

Katrina Elchami was a delegate at last night's meeting pushing for a public discussion.

"I think it makes them look worse, because they could have come forward and said we're in a bad situation all around and there's not much we could do," she said.

Controversial sale

The Forster property, located on Felix Avenue, sold to Progressive Waste Solutions on Dec. 22 and was then flipped for a $1 profit to the owners of the Ambassador Bridge the same day.

Trustees had not made a comment about the sale publicly until Tuesday night. Up until that point, district officials would only say it was part of a legal dispute with Progressive Waste Solutions, formerly BFI Canada.

Then CBC learned last week that fuel had leaked into the property's soil and groundwater from a neighbouring waste processing plant owned at the time by BFI Canada.

The school district learned about the contamination in October 2014, which became the crux of the legal dispute with Progressive, according to a statement read at Tuesday's meeting by superintendent Kathy Lynd.

"After we became aware of the environmental issue, our legal team delivered a demand to Progressive and any action to sell the property on the open market was suspended while settlement discussions were pursued," she said.

Site contamination

Neighbours of the school property are upset they were never informed about the contamination.

Sylvia Steward said she saw people testing on the former BFI property, but no one informed her about any possible contamination. She has lived next door to the Progressive site and the school since 1989.

Harry McDowel said residents should have been informed about contamination of the J.L. Forster high school site when the school district first learned of it.

She criticized the company for not informing her and other neighbours.

"That should have never taken place," she said.

Harry McDowel said he would have told his daughter to avoid the school property had he known about even a possibility of a contamination. McDowel, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 20 years, also saw drilling on the property.

"It would have been nice if someone would have come around," he said. "That way, I would stop my kid from going over."

Buckler said there was no need to inform the public because the school was closed by the time the board learned about the contamination.

With files from Ioana Draghici


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