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Cabell County Schools officials and Board of Education members tour a potential site for the new Davis Creek Elementary on Feb. 9, 2021, at the site of the former Barboursville Brickyard.

HUNTINGTON — The obstacles that the Cabell County Board of Education will face in building the new Davis Creek Elementary School are not what many thought they might be.

The proposed location, the site of the former Barboursville Brick Company, has long been the focus of conversations centered on contaminants and has not had a tenant since the factory closed in 1979.

But contaminated soil isn’t the biggest hurdle the school board will have to clear to build there — it’s what the soil is composed of.

EnviroProbe Integrated Solutions, a company specializing in geotechnical and environmental drilling, sampling and analysis, was hired by Cabell County Schools to conduct a study of the land and what lies beneath it as it pertains to regulations for building a residential property.

At multiple locations on the property, collections of whole and partial bricks were found up to 15 1/2 feet under the surface, which would need to be either completely removed and replaced or otherwise remediated in order to build a secure foundation for any building, EnviroProbe officials said.

When the former buildings on the property were torn down more than a decade ago, the materials were used as fill for the land. That material remains under the surface and has created a fluid, porous mass that is not currently suitable for building.

There are two ways to fix the issue, one being the removal of the fill entirely where a building would be located, or drilling through the unstable material to install a floating concrete base that sits on stable ground far beneath the surface.

Both options would be a great expense, coming with an estimated cost of $30-$50 per square foot, or between $1.3 million to $2.5 million for the new building.

The Brickyard property has been evaluated previously, most recently in 2010 by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, specifically the office of the Volunteer Rehabilitation Program designed to transform old properties for new use.

The previous VRP found multiple contaminants in the soil, soil vapor and groundwater on site but was measured and compared to regulations suitable for commercial use.

This time around, the findings were held up to a different set of standards, which are more stringent and required further testing beyond the minimum for commercial use.

“When the previous tests were done they had some restraints, mainly related to budgeting, but we had flexibility to focus on what residents of the property would be exposed to and could come into the building,” EnviroProbe manager Neil Capper said, “Through that focus we were able to determine that the site meets the residential use standards outline in the VRP. They didn’t look at what we did in the original assessment.”

One contaminant that was found to be above the acceptable concentrated amount for residential use was Napthalene, a common compound in heavy oils such as diesel fuel and lubricating oils.

To eliminate the risk of exposure, a vapor barrier and property ventilation system would be required for any occupied building on the property.

Arsenic was detected in all samples taken on the property, and while they were above the recommended levels for residential use according the the traditional standard, they were below average for arsenic levels found in soil across the region and therefore deemed safe for building.

Cabell County Schools has not yet closed on the Brickyard property, which is still legally owned by the Village of Barboursville. The property acquisition is expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks, Superintendent Ryan Saxe said.

When that purchase is complete, Cabell County Schools will look to rework the Land Use Covenant to allow them to build a residential building on the project site (currently it is prohibited). Restrictions on that LUC that would remain in place are the prohibited use of groundwater and the vapor barrier and passive venting requirements for occupied buildings.

“It is going to be a safe site for our students and staff for years to come — especially after we take the necessary steps the DEP has provided. This is one thing we can check off and say we’ve now done our due diligence,” Saxe said. “This property is going to make a great candidate for a new school.”

The Cabell County Board of Education will meet again Tuesday, July 20 beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the Central Office with a number of personnel, financial and policy items on the agenda, including the approval of interagency agreements with several health care facilities to provide opportunities for students enrolled in the Practical Nursing program to gain clinical experience during the 2021-22 school year.

Luke Creasy is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @LukeCreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.

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