Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England
New Middle School Will Reduce Classroom Crowding and Bring Better Educational Opportunities and Open Green Spaces to the Heart of Neglected Neighborhood
EPA Assessment Grant Helps Pave the Way for New Lowell
Success in EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant Program
(December 3, 2003)
When the Kathryn “Kay” Stoklosa Middle School is completed it will become an anchor for urban revitalization in one of Lowell’s oldest and most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The public middle school will help reduce crowding in Lowell classrooms and provide children and their families with open space that is so limited in the urban Acre neighborhood. Through the help of a US EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant and following the efforts of state and local organizations, local residents, and area community groups, the site of the new school has been assessed, remediation efforts are gearing up, and the school is projected to swing its doors open to its expected 660 student body as early as August 2005.
The School will be located in the Acre neighborhood. Known for it historically heavy immigrant and minority population, this oldest of Lowell neighborhoods was settled by Irish immigrants who labored in nearby factories and helped build canals. The Irish built a strong industrial foundations for the neighborhood. Later immigrants included people of Greek, Hispanic, and Asian descent. This downtown neighborhood quickly became overpopulated, and living conditions began to deteriorate as buildings began to fall into disrepair. Conditions declined until the 1970's and remained static and deplorable until local officials began plans for the Acre Urban Revitalization and Development Plan in 1992.
With a population of 103,000, Lowell, is the fourth largest city in Massachusetts. Just 25 miles from Boston, the city has a rich industrial and cultural history. The largest employer in the city is industrial manufacturers, followed by jobs related to education. According to the 2000 US Census, almost 17% of the population lives below the poverty level. 14% of the population is of Asian ancestry and 11% is Hispanic.
The Acre Urban Revitalization and Development Plan will transform a majority of the 600 acre neighborhood and will be anchored by the Stoklosa Middle School. The plan is expected to transfigure about 113 acres at the bustling heart of the city, including the almost 6 acres that the middle school will blanket. This effort encompasses dozens of abandoned and underused properties, light industrial facilities, failed or failing businesses, small housing complexes, and thousands of square feet of above and underground environmental contamination.
The first step taken in the creation of the Stoklosa Middle School was to discover what environmental contaminants lurked under the dozens of dilapidated buildings in the Acre. The US EPA Assessment Grant helped fund a Phase II site investigation that was conducted by local environmental contractor, TRC. The site assessment found concentrations of arsenic, cyanide, lead, and PAHs in low-depth soil samples. Concentrations of arsenic, cyanide, volatile organic compounds, and PAHs were also found in ground water samples. All level of contamination were below required levels.
Armed with site assessment information, the city now has the tools to begin plans for environmental remediation on the property that will make it safe for future students and the environment once again. Remediation efforts will include the removal of thousands of pounds of contaminated soil, the capping and improvement or demolition and debris removal of existing buildings, and extensive paving.
EPA Brownfields funds were also spread to other aspects of the middle school’s development. EPA funds were used to facilitate several community outreach programs, including the creation of fact sheets, public meetings with officials and the community, the creation of a website and public document repository for site redevelopment, and translation services for the many non-English speaking residents of the neighborhood.
The Kathryn Stoklosa Middle School is bound on the north by Broadway, on the south by Rock Street, on the west by School Street, and on the east by Mt. Vernon Street. The school will sit on 5.83 acres of land and will house a main building that will provide quality public education to 660 students and bring over 1.7 acres of reclaimed green space in the form of active recreation areas like basketball courts and a soccer field, to students and their families. The school will reduce the growing problem of overcrowding in Lowell public schools and improve educational opportunities for the city’s children. The school will create or retain an estimated 75 permanent jobs and will become the focus of the Acre Urban Revitalization Plan.
The middle school project is the result of years of diligent community, local, and state planning. The key component of the Acre Urban Revitalization and Development plan was the Citizens Advisory Committee, comprised of active members of the urban community, who represented local residents, local businesses and institutions, local community organizations, the National Park Service, and a number of city agencies. Various presentations were given by various community groups to be sure that each community voice was heard during the redevelopment preparations. Groups included: The Coalition for a Better Acre Task Force, the Acre Neighbors Group, business owners in the project area, and the Lowell Planning Board. Also, two City Council meeting were held on the topic and televised on Local Access Cable.
The school, projected to be completed in the summer of 2005, will bring a vibrant change to a neighborhood plagued by disrepair and economic hardship for generations.
Special thanks to Colin McNiece and Stephen Crane of the City of Lowell Division of Planning and Development for all the information they provided for this story.