It's been about 20 years or so since we've had the conversation about the contamination on the grounds where Southside High School, now known as Elmira High School resides. What we have now that we didn't have two decades ago is social media and the ability for large groups of people to come together in conversation or to mobilize. Which makes this go 'round rather interesting from an outsider perspective.
However I don't exactly have the luxury of being an "outsider", with one son at Elmira High School now and another who will be there next year. It is concerning to me as a parent that a school was built over top of a contaminated industrial site as recently as the late 70's and no one stopped to think, "Hey, maybe this isn't the greatest idea." It is concerning to me that it took so long to recognize the problem existed and for remediation to begin. It concerns me that this wasn't taken into consideration when the school district decided to redistribute students across the district and consolidate the two high schools. If, as more than one former member has said, the Elmira City Council was advised in the early 2000's that no one would think to build a school there now unless complete remediation was done, why was that not taken into consideration?
So I will say outright that I do not discredit the concerns and the possibility that there has been a major public health hazard right under our noses that has caused health problems for a large number of alumni. But when it comes to this issue, I'm a little conflicted.
I question the approach that the DEC, Dept. of Health and others are taking concerning the clean up. I cannot for the life of me understand why the need for more clean up has been acknowledged yet is being done in such a seemingly piecemeal manner? I understand that a large scale clean up would entail more time than is allotted than Summer months. According to the DEC it's times to accommodate the schools capital project schedule. Maybe it should be timed to get the friggin job done?
Why had it taken so long to get the clean up started in the first place? Why the hell would we have to wait until 2019 for further studies? it can't be that hard. You go drill holes in the ground. Check for contaminants. Document what the levels are. Then report it. Not like landing the Mars Rover, folks.
I'm not pointing fingers, I just have questions. Besides, there's too many players involved over the decades and frankly I can't say any one entity bears the blame other than the people who let the contaminants into the soil in the first place.
Admittedly, there's no easy answers and I wonder what the end game is, what is going to bring resolve to the issue. Are we talking about a class action lawsuit, and if so, against whom? Expedited clean up? Calls to shut the school down immediately seems a wee bit simplistic, especially now that the former Ernie Davis Junior High School is occupied by Finn Academy, dontcha think?
Truth is, I don't know what to think most days. On one hand, it's hard to imagine, especially in New York State of all places, that multiple state agencies would knowingly and collaboratively drag their feet on a matter as important as a school built on toxic grounds. Logically thinking, I know the old saw, "Correlation does not imply causation" and think we should be looking, statistically speaking, at cancer rates among other high schools across the region and state and seeing how they compare to the Southside. Are they necessarily higher than others? What other factors come into play with those who have medical issues they attribute to attending the school?
But I also know I've seen first hand the physical difficulties of an alum with unexplained medical issues requiring surgical intervention. I know they're not the only one with those exact same unexplained issues. It is disturbing.
Whatever the case, while it'd good to have conversation about the matter, the community has been talking for decades. And still has questions.