By Andie Mills
The scene is surreal, something out of sci-fi movie. It is surprising to see an eerie all-white landscape, with hills and mounds -- all where the Villa Park High School track and field was – or should be.
Now what? The upgrade to the track and field -- a synthetic turf and track, ADA-required sidewalks and fencing, and a reconfigured parking area -- commenced in September 2018. Completion was originally planned for October 2019. Now, hopes are for a spring opening date.
Similar upgrades at Canyon and Orange High Schools went smoothly. Workers excavating the Orange track encountered unexpected boulders and cement, but the project was completed in a timely manner. The track is now ready for use. Canyon’s track is useable now, with an ADA-compliant walkway, drainage and railings; final touches will be completed this month.
But Villa Park’s track? Scott Harvey, Orange Unified School District Director of Maintenance and Operations, explained the trials and tribulations. Like a troublesome kitchen remodel, what began as a simple upgrade has morphed into a bigger and more complex endeavor.
The first issue discovered was track undulation, caused by changed compaction of the soil. The surface was uneven and unsafe, and had to be torn out. After the rainy season and the soil was dried out, concrete was poured, creating a permanent and stable base under the track that will not shift.
At the end of October, the contractor began the second phase of the upgrade: creating ADA-compliant sidewalks, adding turf and fencing. Several weeks into the project, an asbestos transite pipe, common when the school field was first constructed some 50-60 years ago, was uncovered and subsequently broken.
On Nov. 4, all work ceased. Soil samples were sent to South Coast Air Quality Management (AQMD) and an emergency notification was issued. Asbestos, a hazardous material, was discovered in the soil in two places: on the east side of track, and in the dirt pile on the south side of the site.
On Nov. 7 and 8, workers wearing hazmat suits sealed off the entire area, going beyond the smaller contaminated section. Locks were changed; signage was installed; fencing and yellow tape surrounded the site; all of the heavy equipment and soil was covered with plastic to contain the potentially hazardous materials. Orange Unified security is monitoring the area 24/7.
AQMD is investigating and testing; it will continue to monitor the area, and will issue a permit to continue only after remediation or abatement is safely completed. Harvey anticipates the clean-up and removal to take three weeks, thus taking the project into mid-January. Work on the sidewalks, turf, fencing and parking lot would then continue to early May.
Harvey emphasized that not all of the white-clad area contains hazardous materials – only the two sections – and that students are in no danger whatsoever. Particles are not airborne, and there is no health risk to the public.
And the cost? The funds for the three school field renovations did not come from taxpayers, Harvey emphasized. The approximately $2.5 million for each site renovation, plus $1.7 million per site for ADA upgrades, was paid out of Capitol Reserve Projects funds, resulting from the sale of property (Riverdale). The additional dollars needed for the Villa Park site included $1.5 million for the contractor to tear out, stabilize and replace the undulated asphalt. The tab for remediation has not been determined.
Villa Park High has been plagued with maintenance issues this year; two gyms suffered water damage from a burst pipe and require new flooring.
VPHS track and field project hits another snag
The track and field area at the back of Villa Park High School on Santiago Road is cordoned off.