Work on the GHS money pit will resume – maybe

We need a bigger boat

We need a bigger boat

The town awaits the results of its latest attempt to keep things dry and PCB-free.  Good luck with that.

Construction of the orchestra pit for the new auditorium being built at Greenwich High School could start next week, if a newly reinforced dam prevents major leakage into the site.

Site contractor AMEC has .. bolstered the excavated area’s cofferdam with extra sheet piling. As a result, the dug-out section is ready for another pumping, scheduled for Thursday, of the approximately 9 feet of water sitting in it.

The dewatering process is complicated by the widespread ground contamination that exists at the high school site. The initial leakage into the pit caused the water table to tilt, and polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] in the ground to migrate.

A stronger cofferdam is expected to prevent major groundwater leakage into the pit and the extent of water-table disruption that precipitated the PCB migration. If the reinforcements do not work, the cofferdam will require more bulwarking before pit construction can begin.

“The problem was it was affecting the pressure in the level of the water in the field and causing flow and some migration of some contaminants in the field,” [BET member Bob Brady] said. “It was a manageable level from an engineering and technical standpoint, and the pump could have kept it [the pit] dry for construction, but it was causing problems with the PCBs. That seems to be the critical variable.”

Indeed it does.


Filed under MISA

21 responses to “Work on the GHS money pit will resume – maybe

  1. Anonymous

    Our son, daughter-in-law and two children (elementary school age) sold their apartment in Manhattan last spring and moved to Westport this summer, primarily for the excellent public school system. Hard to imagine anything as monumentally stupid and wasteful as the GHS auditorium fiasco happening in Westport, so it was a good move for them. Sad for Greenwich, however. Greenwich Old Timer

  2. Flash

    I can see the project cost has DOUBLED.
    The roman Coliseum found an Angel in Tod’s, proud to be an Italian.
    Where in Greenwich do you find an Angel with deep pockets and pride in Greenwich citizenship?

    • Flash

      Oh, and btw, what happened to the non-resident Greenwich school students who will be using this monumental galactica?

  3. Did the project team all go to Camden, NJ schools ?

  4. CatoRenasci

    There were people on the RTM who argued that the below ground orchestra pit cofferdam would not work. They were not taken seriously.

    This whole project has turned into a cluster-f*ck, and the PTA Council and the BoE will push it through even if it costs $100 million with the other clean up – which it may well.

    The Town should shelve ALL school related capital spending until MISA is done. The people wanted MISA, they get MISA good and hard.

  5. Greenwich Gal

    Dump the school – turn Hillside location into a public park and move the high school to a new location. Land can be found and purchased. 2 high schools would be optimal anyway. Perhaps one with a STEM specialty and one with Arts.

  6. Anonymous

    The MISA problem is not the PCBs, the MISA problem is they are trying to build the orchestra pit under water. Please note, the stage and the first 9 rows of seats are also under water, according to the plans submitted by BOE and approved by The Planning and Zoning Commission. Also, fire exits shown above the coffer dam, are under water.

    Water flows downhill. This fact has been pointed out to BOE and the MISA Building Committee on numerous occasions. They can pump out the water until the cows come home–the pit is going to refill forever.

    The PCB problem is separate and arises from the fact the Town has not built a Toxic Substances Control Act compliant encapsulation mechanism surrounding the PCBs left under the MISA foundation; nor has it filed a required Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan to deal with the PCBs now found floating in 9 feet of ground water inside the entire “MISA Footprint”.

    It is not legal to pump the untreated storm water in the pit directly into Long Island Sound, whether it contains PCBs or not. According to plans submitted by AECOM to EPA, the Town has been pumping the PCB contaminated water from inside the pit into the Town Sewage Treatment Plant for removal of contaminants before it goes into Long Island Sound. PCBs stick to everything. The entire sewer system and treatment plant must now be shut down and tested for PCB contamination.

    The legal requirement for PCBs in water is less than 1 part per TWO BILLION. Now that PCBs have been found in the storm water above the PCB encapsulation, the entire high school grounds must be retested, pursuant to EPA and Toxic Substances Control Act requirements, and work cannot resume on MISA until The Town of Greenwich can prove no water is leaving the GHS site containing more than .5 PCB molecules in each billion parts of water.

    This is all stated in the conditional “bifurcated” TSCA approval obtained by AECOM and authorized by BET. AECOM also advised BOE the cost of this remediation could exceed $183 million. BOE voted, instead, to proceed with an $8 million remediation which has now failed, spectacularly.

    We have just been informed (the day before Christmas) the GHS site is awash with PCBs. It is not safe either for students or for workers, seen in pictures standing in pools of PCB contaminated water, without the full HAZMAT protective gear mandated by EPA and OSHA. All vehicles entering and exiting the high school site must be decontaminated to EPA standards, or they will track PCBs back to wherever they go.

    The GHS site must be closed pursuant to the terms of the Toxic Substances Control Act conditional approval accepted by The Board of Education. It is going to cost a fortune to remediate the site as well as every other site contaminated by this PCB polluted storm water. New high schools must be built. Everybody and their cousin is going to sue us.

    In the meantime, over the Christmas-New Year Holiday, we are going to have to make plans for providing facilities for Greenwich High School students for the rest of the school year. Town Hall could be turned back into a high school. The BOE building is a former theater that could easily be converted back into a MISA. Some students could be enrolled in the 9 private schools in Town.

    We can probably get FEMA trailers for displaced Board of Education, and Town Hall workers while we sort things out.

  7. towny

    Who is BOB BRADY?
    The folks at Greenwich Damage Control should be handing out rolled up socks. sheesh

    • Walt

      I am glad you asked. Robert “Bobby” Brady is the youngest of the Brady siblings. He is preceded by his bothers, Greg and Peter, and he has half-sisters in Marcia, Jan and Cindy. Cindy was the youngest daughter, who had an annoying little lisp that wanted to make you bitch slap the snot out of her.

      Carol Brady is the matriarch of the clan. She “earned” her living by selling dirt. No shit!! Her spouse was Mike Brady, who in real life was a flamer. NTTAWWT. He was an architect, but they lived in a house that was absolutely HORRIFIC!!

      They had a full time housekeeper, Alice Nelson, who managed the brood, while Carol slept around on her disinterested husband. In real life, Greg was banging Carol. Incest is best!! Mike was banging anything with testicles.

      Marcia should have been banging me, but wasn’t. Because of her snubbing me, she went on to a troubled life of cocaine addiction and Quaaludes.

      Does that answer your question?

    • Not a Fan

      Multiple choice question:
      Bob Brady is:
      1. a Princeton engineer
      2. a failed entrepreneur living on money someone else made
      3. a Democrat who only became one to get a BET nomination (when the ‘pubbies wouldn’t nominate him for anything)
      4. an RTM education committee gadfly for years who accomplished nothing
      5. a short, fat, bozo
      6. all of the above

      • You neglected to mention Bob Brady served simultaneously on the BET, RTM, and MISA Building Committee, casting the deciding vote in favor of MISA on the BET. The fly in the BET ointment is that Members who serve on other elective bodies are not eligible, and members with an outside interest are not supposed to vote.

        Sec. 2. Membership; qualification.
        (a) The Board of Estimate and Taxation shall con-
        sist of twelve (12) electors nominated and elected at
        large. Members shall be sworn, and shall hold office for
        two (2) years from January 1 following their election
        and until their successors shall be elected and shall
        have qualified.
        (b) They shall be taxpayers, shall hold no other
        elective office in the Town government, and shall serve
        without pay.
        (S.A. 347 § 2, 1921; as amended by S.A. 444 § 6, 1939;
        S.A. 235 § 1, 1947.)

  8. Greenwich Gal

    Anonymous –
    Where are you getting your information? Who was informed the day before Christmas about what exactly? This is pretty big news.

    • Sorry about that. I’m not really anonymous–that’s somebody else–the cloud failed to identify me when I hit the “reply button” — It should have said “loveablewhackjob”.

      I was selected a dozen years ago by my neighbors to represent our neighborhood in disputes with GHS. We have hired lawyers, engineers, chemists, surveyors, landscape architects, etc. to help us understand what’s going on at GHS.

      On the very first day, in 2007, when MISA was first announced to the public, we told the Architects making the presentation, in a public meeting we recorded, that they were building in wetlands, and that their plans could not possibly work.

      The very first day MISA was presented to BOE we produced drawings showing the orchestra pit, first 9 rows of seats, and exit doors had all been placed under water, and that the proposed construction was not viable. (Below the stage, adjacent to the orchestra pit, is some extremely expensive mechanical equipment used to raise and lower the stage, just like in Radio City Music Hall.)

      Because all of this equipment is below the ground water level, it is impossible to simply put a drain in the floor of the mechanical room–ground water will gush into the pit as is happening right now. It is not legal to pump the groundwater out of the pit into the storm water system, as it will overwhelm the system.

      There was no chance, ever, that MISA would be built as designed.

      The PCBs came as a complete surprise. Major environmental groups have been advising us on this matter. We filed numerous complaints with regulatory bodies.

      Recently the Hearst Newspaper Corporation filed suit because their reporters discovered The Selectmen, Board of Education, BET, Department of Public Works, AECOM, MISA Building Committee, and Outside Legal Firms, among others, have been holding secret meetings from which the press, public, P&Z, Wetlands Commission, Conservation Commission, and RTM have all been excluded; in which they have worked to present a common set of misinformation regarding MISA. “Getting their story straight before going public.”

      The Hearst Corporation has asked to see the notes taken by participants. The Town Claims none of the 30 or so people involved took notes or minutes. I was subpoenaed by The Town to testify at the hearing with regard to filings made to regulatory agencies by me, or by people acting on my behalf. Much of the information presented earlier is contained in those filings, and in agency responses. It can all be found on the Board of Education website.

      I believe today is the day before Christmas. Bob Brady boiled down thousands of pages of engineering data into simple, understandable, responses to a reporter’s questions. MISA is a mess that can’t be fixed no matter how much money is sunk into it.

      Bill Effros
      ( if you wish to go off-list, or if you would like me to put you on my mailing list to get copies of requests made to governmental agencies, along with their replies.

      • towny

        Is the boiler/mechanical room, under what is or used to be known as Bella House -below ground water level?

        • The original high school was built on rock surrounding a swamp. 7 (?) houses were seized under eminent domain, and an 8th was purchased on the Post Road. The swamp was purchased as a buffer between the school and neighbors on Old Church Road. Deed restrictions were placed on the school and the swamp as part of the eminent domain settlement with neighbors. These deed restrictions were reaffirmed as part of Court Ordered Stipulations and Judgments in 2003.

          The rock ledge is higher than the swamp, ranging from 50 to 55 feet above sea level. Surface water flows at roughly 40-45 feet above sea level on the property. The swamp is a “vernal pool” meaning it is sometimes dry and sometimes wet.

          Some of the swamp is located inside an underground rock “bowl”, and some of the water cascades over the ledge near the Post Road. But portions of the swamp have no rock bottom, and are directly connected to Long Island Sound. The water and decaying plant matter have formed a massive peat bog in these sections, that will not support structures. Ground water has been filtering through the peat bog for 10,000 years. The peat bog is roughly 45 feet high, extending straight down to the Long Island Sound seabed.

          Over the years TOG has repeatedly attempted to fill-in the swamp, and has done so without obtaining required environmental permits. Despite putting roughly 10 vertical feet of fill in the swamp, it is still today only 40-45 feet above sea level; dry in the summer, wet and squishy in spring.

          MISA was placed partly on rock, partly on peat, above the old parking lot. The part above rock could be excavated, and would support a 70 foot high building. The part above peat could not. Water will always filter into the foundation from that portion of the building erected on peat.

          Bella House was built entirely on rock, 50-55 feet above sea level. I cannot tell you if mechanical rooms extend down to the water table. The person who has access to those technical answers is Michael Finkbeiner, who is probably out of Town right now.

          The MISA pit sits in peat 45 feet above sea level. For acoustic reasons, the building must extend 70 feet above the stage. For legal reasons the building cannot be more than 55 feet above ground level. For mechanical reasons, the mechanism below the stage must extend 15 feet below the stage. Add it all together, and you can see the pit must be started 15 feet above sea level. At this elevation it cannot be kept dry..

  9. Bernard Schneider

    Dear LWJ,

    I need a little help with the calculation in your final paragraph.

    1- Because of the 55-foot restriction, and the acoustic requirement of a 70-foot high stage, the stage must be set 15 feet below ground level.

    2- The mechanism below the stage must extend another 15 feet down, to 30 feet ( 15+15) below the ground level.

    3. I am not sure how we get from here to ” the pit must be started 15 feet above sea level”, based on what I assume to be the fact that ” The MISA pit sits in peat 45 feet above sea level.” ( Is that the calculation, 45 less 30?).

    I’m not disagreeing; just having trouble visualizing.



    • Bernard,

      You have visualized correctly, however that was not the calculation used by BOE in order to propose putting the bottom of the foundation 15 feet above sea level.

      The architects claim they were told the building itself could be 45 feet above ground level, that they had to wind up with 750 on-site parking spaces, and that they had to bring in the project for $15 million.

      Their original proposal called for building a new auditorium 45 feet high over a 2 level parking garage. There were only 2 flies in this ointment. First, it boosted the projected cost above $25 million. And second, the acoustic engineers told BOE the acoustics in the new auditorium would be no better than the acoustics in the old auditorium unless the interior dimension from the top of the stage to the bottom of the ceiling was at least 67 feet.

      So, the parking garage was eliminated, and a 70 foot high building was proposed that would extend only 45 feet above ground level, and 25 feet below ground level.

      That was when someone pointed out that this 70 foot high auditorium had been designed without any foundation to hold it up. The architects went back to their drawing boards, and returned with a 15 foot high mechanical section, under the stage, that would house massive elevator machinery capable of raising and lowering an entire 170 member chorus; in addition to giant sump pumps and electrical generating equipment needed to get rid of the water that would inevitably flood into the huge underground chamber, now extending 40 feet below ground level.

      Site Plans for the western side of the MISA Auditorium show a ground level ranging from 40 to 45 feet. That meant the piles for the foundation would be driven directly into the Long Island Sound seabed–a dicey proposal from an engineering standpoint, and one sure to raise the building cost to unacceptable levels.

      This problem was solved by producing site plans in which the ground level was changed from 40-45 feet to 50-55 feet. Now the base of the building would start 15 feet above sea level, and the piles could be driven into the solid rock below.

      Yes, of course, the building would extend 55-60 feet above the actual ground level, but who would notice? What could they do? It would be too late.

      Enter the PCBs.

      In 2011, without approval for the changed architectural plans, BOE started digging, only to discover the 10 feet of fill, added to the 40-45 foot ground level in the fields behind the high school, contained massive quantities of PCBs and other known carcinogens.

      Construction stopped and testing began. “The soil borings will be completed using a Geoprobe direct-push drilling machine” according to a BOE press release. Samples were collected, some to a depth of 45 feet without ever hitting rock. Those samples went no deeper only because the testing equipment was incapable of going deeper.

      While the MISA site plan indicated rock below the surface, in fact, in many locations, there was no rock at all–just solid peat topped off with PCB contaminated fly ash and top soil, sitting on the Long Island Sound seabed. There was nothing to build the foundation on.

      The Toxic Substances Control Act Administrator’s conditional approval letter of Dec. 3, 2012 requires, among other things, 5 foot thick solid reinforced concrete encapsulation of PCBs not removed from the GHS site. This encapsulation must be compliant with EPA regulations, and must completely contain all PCBs left under the MISA foundation, so that not a single PCB molecule can ever escape either into ground water or surface water. Monitoring equipment must be installed, and maintained, in perpetuity, to ensure PCB encapsulation compliance, forever. These terms are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency in the form of a “Perpetual Deed Restriction” which requires disclosure of the encapsulated PCBs every time any neighboring property is transferred or mortgaged. (Mortgages are not offered by many lending institutions to properties adjacent to PCB storage facilities.)

      BOE told us the “Coffer Dam” would do the trick. It has not.

      BOE has always known it is at least impractical, probably impossible, and certainly astronomically expensive, to build MISA as shown in the plans presented to The Planning and Zoning Commission, PZBA, BET, Selectmen, RTM, EPA, The Army Corps of Engineers, CT-DEEP, IWWA, The Conservation Commission, The Press, and the public.

      BOE never had any intention to build MISA as shown in those plans; they intended only to use the plans to get final approvals. Then they intended to build almost all of the building above ground, through a series of work-order changes that would have more than doubled the approved cost, and resulted in the largest building in the Town of Greenwich, located on property zoned “residential”, without adequate parking, 3 times as high as permitted pursuant to stipulations contained in court orders, and rented out as a commercial facility to generate revenue.

      The discovery of PCBs changed everything, and BOE has been backed into trying to build MISA, from a point 15 feet above sea level, according to plans everyone knows cannot possibly work.

      The only real question is how much more money TOG taxpayers will have to spend to unwind this situation..

      Bill Effros

      • Bill, thank you, as always, for sharing your extensive knowledge on this fiasco. I’ll just add one tiny bit of information, which is that I remember, back when the high school was first being built in 1969 or 1970, that the first steel pilings for the structure were driven on a Friday, and when workers arrived the following Monday they discovered that the piles had kept going over the weekend and were now sunk far down into the peat. The “answer” was longer piles, but clearly, someone in town besides myself knew when MISA was being designed that there was no effective bottom below the site. The rest is, as you note, history.

        • Chris,

          Much of my knowledge comes from others who have passed it along, often at great risk to their professional careers, in return for my promise never to reveal the source.

          One of my favorite stories has always been about the GHS swimming pool, which, I am told, tipped into the peat bog shortly after being built. Apparently, the water in the pool started pouring out of the low end, and the pool had to be completely rebuilt.

          Your story about the piles is great! It goes right to the top of my story list, and will be repeated often.


          And thanks, also, for maintaining this blog–it’s a hell of a lot of work, and a hell of a lot of fun.


          PS — there’s a 6 point buck who’s been sleeping under my sun porch, and my son, the bow-hunter, has been too lazy to come up here to take it. If you want it, you’ve got permission to hunt on my property. (You know where I live?) We’ve also got a freezer full of does, and a younger buck visiting regularly. (I miss the coyotes–they used to hang out under the sun porch, too. When they started howling, it was bone-chilling, but they sure kept the herbivores out of the garden…)

  10. Bernard Schneider


    Thanks from me, too.


    • Bernard,

      Thanks for fact-checking. I need all the help I can get.

      One of the unique features of The Clean Water Act is the ability of private citizens to jump over layers of federal bureaucracy to take CWA violators directly to federal court after giving 60 days notice of violation.

      These notices almost invariably result in settlements with complainants.

      But not here in Greenwich.

      Instead, The Town has invested in litigation insurance, so the Town has to pay “only” the first million dollars, and is covered by insurance for the rest of the cost of litigation.

      As the Town is well aware, I know how to file CWA claims. Instead of settling my claims, the Town chooses to fight them. To date, according to Town Attorney John Wayne Fox, the decision to fight instead of settle has cost the Town in excess of $100 million.

      And I haven’t yet filed a single CWA suit.

      But, I’ve got to be right on my facts; and I’ve got to be able to explain complex science simply enough so people who are more comfortable with words than numbers can follow the thread of my argument.

      Please continue to let me know when I’m not clear; when I’ve jumped over steps; when you think I’m dead wrong about something. It’s much better for me to parse these matters in a forum like this, than to discover my problems in a courtroom.

      I really appreciate your taking the time to read, think about, and, most of all, comment on my remarks — one way or the other — and I hope you will continue to do so.

      Bill Effros