Community expresses concerns over plans to build school near Superfund site

Glynn County School District plans to build new Altama Elementary in same place

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BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Community members attended a Glynn County School Board meeting on Tuesday night to express their concerns regarding plans to build a new elementary school next to a Superfund site.

The Glynn County School District plans to construct a new $24 million Altama Elementary School in the same location, which is near the waste site in Brunswick. 

Even though the contaminated land has been there for nearly 40 years, community members said they believe this is an opportunity for the district to start over and keep students safe.

The Glynn County School Board meeting room was packed with people wearing the color red as they protested the district’s decision to build a new elementary school in the same place. 

"You’re going to send thousands and thousands of students through that school for a potential negative outcome," resident Trae Ross said.

LaTanya Abbott-Austin has family members who attend the school and expressed her concerns at the meeting.

“It's just not going to be safe because they say it’s not a matter of if, but when, those chemicals could rise up," she said.

The main concern community members have with the location of the school is the Superfund site, which they said is damaging students’ learning development.

“There’s a whole litany of different things that can happen. We’re talking from autism to cancers, stunted development to aggressive behaviors," said Altamaha Riverkeeper Executive Director Jen Hilburn. "There’s no end of the list of toxins.”

On Monday, Superintendent Dr. Virgil Cole wrote a letter, saying, "To help alleviate these concerns, last fall we contracted with Terracon, a private company that specializes in this area, to conduct preliminary testing. We wanted to know if there were any potential environmental contamination issues with our property. When the tests came back negative, we asked Terracon to take it a step further by conducting more extensive tests throughout the entire property, including digging wells. These tests came back negative as well."

But Abbott-Austin said she hopes the school board considers their concerns, and that the health of her great-nieces and nephews won't be at risk while they are attending the school.

"I want the board to take away from tonight the passion we have to keep our children safe when we have the information that there is a known toxic site," she said. 

The principal of Altama Elementary spoke during the meeting, saying she thinks the school should stay in its current location, and that the community should trust that the district's testing of the land is accurate.

A school board member said the board is being as transparent as possible about the plans to build and about the testing the district is doing to ensure it's safe.

The school board did not make any decisions Tuesday night, as the meeting was just an opportunity for community members to express their concerns. 

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