Board cites concerns on debris, tables road project

NASHUA – Concerned that construction might disturb debris buried in the former landfill beneath the New Searles School property, the Planning Board has decided to play it safe and has tabled a proposal to build a new driveway and parking lot there.

The school had to be closed during the 1990s because of methane and other gases seeping into the facility at 39 Shady Lane. Although the landfill was capped first in the early 1970s, it had to be capped again 20 years later and pollution control systems installed at the 17-acre site.

Questions arose during the Planning Board meeting last week about possible disturbance of buried debris during construction of the new driveway and parking lot, which everybody agreed is needed to improve traffic flow.

The board said Thursday that it wanted answers from city solid waste officials and geotechnical engineers before it would approve the project.

Resident Willard Brown of 49 Wethersfield Road said he went to the school and has lived near it for 40 years. He said he knows the school property well and told the board that all kinds of junk – including cars and barrels – is buried at the site and that some still surfaces from time to time.

Although the plans say the landfill area won’t be disturbed during construction, Brown isn’t convinced that the project won’t cause problems.

“I’m not against fixing the road into the school,” Brown said “But as soon as you start digging, you’ve got a problem. You’re messing with fire.”

Project engineer Pat Holden said all pollution control system are now functioning well.

The site is monitored by local and state environmental officials, Holden said, adding that a 6-inch cap atop the landfill is performing as designed, along with gas collection systems. But he agreed that technical questions should be answered by experts.

No one disputes the project the will solve traffic circulation and parking problems at the school, which are exacerbated by a high population of special-education students, some of whom need help when getting on and off buses.

The new driveway configuration will provide a bypass to keep traffic flowing constantly and provide separation of bus and car traffic, officials said.

Plan also call for construction of 20-foot-wide emergency access road around the perimeter of the school. Some neighbors, such as Greta Brennenman, of 65 Wethersfield Road, said the road should be gated to keep vandals away from the school.

A few years ago, about $10,000 worth of windows were shot out with BBs at New Searles, according to Shawn Smith, director of plant operations for the district. Surveillance cameras were then placed on the building as a deterrent to vandals, and things have calmed down somewhat since, Smith said.