Building's tainted well has school board balking

January 16, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The former Telemecanique building on Route 140 could be the perfect home for the Carroll County Board of Education headquarters -- except for the volatile organic compounds not yet purged from a well.

Because of the trouble the contamination could bring, all five board members and two of the three county commissioners would like to abandon the idea of moving there.

"I'm not ready to give up on it," said Donald I. Dell, the commission president.

It was his idea, and he wants to learn more about the contamination and continuing efforts by the current tenant to clean it up before passing up the chance to get 154,700 square feet of space. The county could buy or lease the building.

The building in Reese is probably the only one in the county with the space to bring together all Board of Education offices and other programs that are now spread out around the Westminster area, Mr. Dell said.

"I think the issue is being blown out of proportion, because that well is not being used for the operation of that building," Mr. Dell said.

The school board voted 5-0 Wednesday to tell the county it doesn't want the Telemecanique Inc. manufacturing plant. Board members said they liked other aspects but were reluctant to inherit an environmental hassle.

"I can't, in good conscience, move to a facility with a major environmental hazard," said C. Scott Stone, echoing feelings of his fellow school board members.

The contaminated well is not being used for the building and is not connected to the drinking water supply, Mr. Dell said.

He said he would expect any legal liability to continue to fall on Square D Co., the tenant that is responsible for the cleanup, which consists of pumping water from the well and running it through a filtration system to take out the volatile organic compounds. Square D's parent company is Groupe Schneider, which also owns Telemecanique.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy is less confident about the liability. He said he would worry that a county or school employee could sue the county if he became sick because of the contamination.

"I am dead set against the Telemecanique building as a means of housing anything," he said.

The building is also being considered for offices of the Carroll County Department of Health, which are now on Washington Road.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge also is reluctant to pursue the Telemecanique building if the school board doesn't want it. Like the board members, she would like to move ahead with some plan for the school offices instead of continuing to waver.

"I just think it's been on the agenda for a long time," she said. "We need to get on with it. Every time we explore another avenue, it just takes longer. There are times you just simply have to make a decision."

Unless someone comes up with a compelling reason for doing otherwise, Ms. Gouge said, she would like to put school offices into a group of portable buildings donated by Martin Marietta Corp.

Until the Telemecanique option arose this month, the county had planned to move the school and health offices to three modular buildings on Gist Road.

Those buildings are still at the Martin Marietta plant near Middle River. Although the county has agreed to accept them for free, officials have taken no action to move them.

In addition to the $3.3 million or more estimated for preparing the Gist Road site and installing the buildings, the county is already responsible for at least $25,000 for heating the buildings this winter, Mr. Lippy said.

"I want to fish or cut bait as far as those buildings are concerned," Mr. Lippy said.

He and Ms. Gouge are in favor of the portable buildings, which could last as long as 15 years and save money, at least in the short run.

Mr. Dell said he is less comfortable with spending the money on a temporary solution.

"In the long run, I'm not sure there's going to be great savings if we're building a new building anyway," he said. "It will cost more money in the future."

For at least five years, the county has been talking about moving the school board offices from the Courthouse Annex at 55 N. Court St. to open up more space for court and state's attorney's offices.

The first proposal in 1989, the one Superintendent R. Edward Shilling prefers, was to build a new county office building and let the school staff move into the current one on North Center Street, as well as into the Winchester building across the parking lot.

In 1990, the county bought the Barrel House at Distillery Drive and Railroad Avenue and considered moving the board there, but it has since turned the place into a human services complex.

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