School Climate & Safety

Quincy, Mass., Drops Plans for School On Dump Site

By Catherine Gewertz — December 06, 2000 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The city of Quincy, Mass., has dropped a plan to build a high school on a defunct toxic dump, bowing to mounting opposition from community members worried about health risks to future students.

With the $100 million project nearing its final approval phase, Mayor James A. Sheets announced last week that it would be halted after three years of planning. He said he stood by the project as the city’s best choice, but did not believe he could instill sufficient public faith in it.

“Once the fear is generated, whether it’s real or perceived, it’s real,” Mr. Sheets told The Boston Globe. “I’m not going to have moms and dads out there saying, ‘I don’t want to send my son or daughter to that high school because it’s not safe.’ ”

The developments in Quincy, a Boston suburb with an 8,900-student public school system, echoed a debacle in Los Angeles, where the school district spent $200 million to plan and partially complete a high school complex on an old oil field before abandoning it earlier this year in the face of intense opposition. (“L.A.'s Belmont Project Halted by School Board,” Feb. 2, 2000.)

The plan in Massachusetts would have constructed a school, an access road, and adjoining fields to replace the old, physically ailing Quincy High School, which serves Quincy’s central-city area. The Quincy school committee had approved the plan, and the state education department had already committed to reimburse the city for 90 percent of the cost. The City Council was to have considered a construction bond for the project this week.

An environmental firm hired by the city examined the site and confirmed that small concentrations of contaminants were present. The firm promised it could rehabilitate the site by excavating the soil from where the high school would be, covering the area with a liner, and topping it with a thick layer of clean soil. The excavated soil would be deposited elsewhere on the 24-acre parcel.

Growing Opposition

Key city and school leaders supported the decision to proceed. But opposition grew. Parents told local newspapers their children wouldn’t be safe at the school. One even said she would move out of town rather than send her four children there. They delivered a petition to Mr. Sheets bearing the signatures of 1,400 opponents of the construction.

School committee member William J. Phelan combed through legal and historical documents to assemble a picture of the past use of the site, where a shipyard dumped asbestos, lead, and other substances from the 1940s to the early 1960s. Mr. Phelan claimed that the volume of toxins far exceeded previous estimates.

Then, on Nov. 28, a Boston-based advocacy group placed the site on its “Dirty Dozen” list of what it viewed as the state’s top environmental health threats. The same day, Mayor Sheets called an end to the project.

Mr. Sheets, a Democrat, said he would urge the school committee to find another site for the school.

Democratic state Sen. Mark Morrissey, who opposed the plan, welcomed the news.

“Even if you believe the engineers, you were never going to get over the emotional hurdle of people not wanting to send their kids to the site,” he said. “If the engineers are wrong, you won’t know until 20 or 30 years from now.”

But Kerry Tull, the project manager for the proposed high school, lamented what he called the triumph of emotion over science.

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2000 edition of Education Week as Quincy, Mass., Drops Plans for School On Dump Site


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Disparities, Bullying, and Corporal Punishment: The Latest Federal Discipline Data
As most schools offered hybrid instruction in 2020-21, Black students and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined.
5 min read
The image displays a lonely teenage boy facing away from the camera, sitting on the curb in front of his high school.
Discipline data from the 2020-21 pandemic era, released by the U.S. Department of Education, shows persisting disparities in discipline based on race and disability status.
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center Where Should Students Be Allowed to Use Cellphones? Here’s What Educators Say
There’s a yawning gap between what's permitted and what educators feel should be allowed.
2 min read
Tight crop photo of a student looking at their cellphone during class. The background is blurred, but shows students wearing uniforms.
School Climate & Safety Explainer What Is Restraint and Seclusion? An Explainer
Restraint and seclusion are dangerous practices that are used to control students with disabilities, experts say.
8 min read
schoolboy sitting on a chair isolated in a hallway
School Climate & Safety Why These Parents Want Cellphones Banned in Schools
Educators say parents are often quick to push back on cellphone bans in schools, but this parent group is leading the charge.
3 min read
Students' cell phones are collected by school administration before the start of spring break at California City Middle School in California City, Calif., on March 11, 2022.
Students' cellphones are collected by school administration before the start of spring break at California City Middle School in California City, Calif., on March 11, 2022.
Damian Dovarganes/AP