MEREDITH — The results of a Phase II environmental assessment on the campus of the former Laconia State School are encouraging, according to the engineer that supervised the work.
“The issues are very manageable. For a site with a history of a variety of uses it was a lot cleaner than we expected. It’s very much a good news situation,” said Clarence “Tim” Andrews, of Nobis Group.
Andrews, who has 25 years of experience managing environmental investigations, remediation, and construction programs, provided an update to the Lakes Region Planning Commission.
The regional planning agency received Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields funding to complete an environmental assessment of the 247-acre site that has 31 buildings and six support structures. The site is located between Lake Winnisquam and Opechee Bay.
The property initially housed a farm. Then in 1903 the New Hampshire School for Feeble-Minded Children began operations on the site. The school was shuttered in 1991.
“There were a lot of fears about this property and concerns about buried bodies. This environmental study has taken away a lot of stigma about the site that is costing the state $450,000 a year to maintain. It is an essential step to giving others assurance to invest in the property and move forward,” said Lakes Region Planning Commission Executive Director Jeff Hayes.
Because of concerns that there could be unmarked graves on the property, an archaeologist supervised the digging of all test pits and the installation of monitoring wells, and no bones were found, according to Andrews.
One building on the property still houses both the state’s emergency 911 call center and the communication center for Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid dispatch.
The Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission was formed by the Legislature in 2017 and tasked with planning the future of the property at the intersection of Meredith Center Road and North Main Street. Commission Chairman George Bald has said potential developers demand clarity and certainty regarding conditions at the site.
The panel has forwarded a report to state lawmakers that outlines a master development plan for the property that could include a sports complex, a 150-room hotel, 225 homes, 120 market-rate apartments or townhomes, 10,000 square feet of retail space, a 7,500-square-foot restaurant and up to 15,000 square feet of commercial office space.
In 2010, a Phase I environmental assessment was completed. All prior uses of the property were researched, including what types of petroleum products were used and stored there, what types of facility support equipment were used and housed on site, and what types of pesticides/herbicides were used in agricultural operations. The assessment found evidence that solid waste had been buried.
Recently over a three-week period, 30 monitoring wells were installed, soil borings taken and groundwater sampling completed. Test results show the presence of dieldrin, a pesticide, in the soil in the area of a former chicken barn. The substance was once commonly mixed with paint to coat farm buildings to prevent insects from nesting.
Dieldrin is neither particularly dissolvable nor migratable in groundwater, Andrews said during a presentation to the Lakes Region Planning Commission, with Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., in attendance. Because the pesticide was applied in a way consistent with manufacturer labeling, the state Department of Environmental Services will not regulate it as an accidental release into soil, though the contaminated soil will need to be managed to accommodate reuse and exposure risk, Andrews said.
Low concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which often are linked to coal ash byproducts, were found, along with some lead and arsenic in the area where junk metals were once scrapped. The area of contamination is small and can be remediated, Andrews said.
One discrete location that contained stained-fill in a shallow area showed evidence of petroleum byproducts, heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — likely the result of the area being used as a waste dump over time, according to the Nobis Group report.
Testing also found PCBs in surface soil, likely from disposal of old electrical equipment along with byproducts of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, heating oil and gasoline, according to the report.
Uncertainties regarding the type and extent of contamination at these sites pose potential risk to the public and limit the region’s economic potential, but Brownfields assessments clarify environmental concerns, and help encourage and facilitate site redevelopment, Hayes said.
Franklin Mayor Tony Giunta, a member of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, said the Brownfields program has been key to helping his city neutralize the liability threat of old mill buildings. Historically, the region’s economy was based around industrial mills built during the 1800s. Most of these predominantly brick buildings are now underused, abandoned or condemned.
“Brownfield assessments are a way of controlling the liability and a way of moving these properties forward that have been sitting empty for decades,” Giunta said, touting the benefits of EPA grant funds.
Based on the current data, the next action for the Laconia State School site, Andrews said, will be limited confirmatory groundwater sampling to evaluate the dieldrin presence. The PCB concentrations found at levels exceeding regulatory levels will also need to be evaluated and remediated.