The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 17, 2001


Selectmen ask for soil tests on three school sites

Faced with a litany of unpleasant realities, the Carlisle Board of Selectmen, with the support of the school committee, voted August 7 to conduct new soil tests on three school sites previously believed to be unsuitable for a new sewage treatment facility. The list of negatives started with the undisputable fact that the Carlisle School is currently operating with a failed septic system that is pumped out monthly, a solution that cannot continue indefinitely.

To the above, add the following items. The proposal for constructing a system on the Banta-Davis Land, which has passed soil and percolation tests and is the preferred septic location, has been tied up in legal wrangling with an abutter for three years, and there is no assurance that the revamped system could avoid a similar fate. A proposal to dig test holes on the Fox Hill conservation parcel has aroused strong public opposition. Further, two meetings with the conservation commission, which is legally charged with management and protection of the property, has brought unequivocal statements that they would consider the possibility of its use only as a "proven" last resort. (See accompanying article.) To date, the selectmen's exploration of other possibilities on either private or town-owned land has uncovered no promising alternatives.

Smaller leaching field needed

On the bright side, the board has learned that the sewage treatment facility now mandated by the state will probably require a far smaller leaching field, since effluent from that type of plant is far cleaner than what flows from a Title 5 system. This fact makes it possible to again consider potential locations on school property. Ballantine pointed out that if a feasible site could be found on the school grounds, it would not be necessary to cross Pages Brook and file an application under the Rivers Act.

School engineers Ed Whatley and Burgess Quitzau from Vanasswe, Hangen and Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) stated that whatever system is used, certain soil characteristics are required ,and that the soils on the hillside and the portion of Spalding Field near to it were previously found to be exceedingly poor. Anywhere on that field, the contractors would first have to remove the present topsoils, and because of the high water level, mound the system, at a cost of an extra half million dollars. For that reason, VHB had turned to Banta-Davis, which is a "proven entity that will work." Therefore, even with the threat of another three years of legal contention, they suggested it should be pursued.

With Fox Hill removed from the picture, at least temporarily, the engineers had been asked to look again at the possibility of putting the system either under Spalding Field, the school parking lot or possibly the Conant Land. Whatley said they were far from confident about the school parking lot because it, like the hillside area, might be underlaid with till (poor subsoil impervious to water). He believed the other end of Spalding Field warranted further study. The engineer then inquired whether the town could afford to lose at least one playing field at Spalding, a concern also expressed by school committee member Suzanne Whitney Smith. When Ballantine asked if a playing field could possibly be put on top of the mounded area, the reply was, "Perhaps, but it would certainly be restricted rather seriously."

Selectman Carol Peters inquired as to whether the hillside at the back of Banta-Davis should also be tested, since a smaller, cleaner leaching field might remove the abutters' objections. Whatley was unwilling to evaluate the legal argument. Abutter Paul Morse asked what was known about the area on Conant. Quitzau felt it might be a possibility, but town administrator Madonna McKenzie warned that maps suggested a very small potential location, given the two existing septic systems in the area. Concern about ledge brought the comment from former selectman Michael Fitzgerald that, "It's fair to say, we'll probably run into ledge wherever we go."

Chaput summarized, "We now have a different system with a different set of rules, so we need to revisit the other options including Spalding, the white-pine area next to it, the school parking lot and the back of Banta-Davis." She also noted that the cost of any of the other locations or of any other system must be compared to the estimated $1.1 million price tag estimated for a sewage treatment facility at Banta-Davis.

All appeared to agree that there will be a premium to be paid at any site chosen. At Spalding it is cost plus loss of a playing field. At Banta-Davis it is the continuing standoff with the abutter and the fact that on any location there, the "riverfront" must be crossed. Ballantine pointed out that the constraints at Fox Hill include public sentiment in opposition, plus the fact that official policy at the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs requires a unanimous positive vote from the local conservation commission for any change in use. Although he did not mention it, it also calls for a cutoff of all future state funding for environmental purposes, if the policy is not honored.

A final query from Chaput about the cost of digging preliminary test holes at the school locations and the back of Banta-Davis brought a $1,000 estimate for each site. McKenzie confirmed that sufficient funds were available for that purpose, but that $20,000 to $30,000 for a full testing cycle on any one of them would require Town Meeting approval.

The official vote to proceed immediately with the $1,000 preliminary tests was four to one, with selectman Doug Stevenson opposed. School committee members present gave a tentative "Yes" vote pending a legal okay from Town Counsel.

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