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Schools Built on Contaminated Sites is a Growing Trend

School districts across the country are building new schools on ground fraught with possible environmental land contamination. The trend is not limited to urban area school districts as the same trend is also occurring in rural areas. In many areas of the United States there are no longer areas that have not been touched by industrial or agricultural contamination.

The story of one Chicago high school is a microcosm of the issue. The high school is located five miles west of Chicago's downtown area called the Loop. The $63 million modern campus includes a health clinic and a child care center, but the school was built in an industrial area close to a coal-fired power plant and is surrounded by warehouses. The school was built with a $3 million underground barrier to protect the 1,400 students from polluted groundwater. But, why was the school built on polluted land?

In many areas of the country, untouched land no longer exists and often communities are left to build schools on industrial land. A mix of influences factor into the trend. School districts argue the use of former industrial sites helps redevelop and revitalize struggling neighborhoods. Environmentalists argue the decisions follow smart-growth policies that reclaim available land and reduce traffic and pollution associated with traffic while it limits the use of unadulterated land. Also, financial and political factors come into play.

Once a neighborhood is prioritized to build a new school, the most affordable site must be found. Sometimes the political momentum of a new school is too much to stop even if a meaningful amount of environmental land contamination is found. Some believe the solution lies with school districts that must advocate for tougher environmental policies at the community level.

Source: emagazine.com,"Dirty Secrets Under the Schoolyard,"Christopher Weber, 1/1/11

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