IUSD Board Held 17th Public Meeting to Ensure Highest Standards for Portola High

phsThe Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) Board of Education held the 17th public meeting, since 2013, in which the Portola High School site was discussed and the public had opportunity to
comment.  During the more than four-hour meeting on Tuesday evening, the Board heard presentations from the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), and IUSD staff and experts about the history of the school site and its safety.  The presentations were followed by public testimony from the capacity audience.

DTSC Presentation: Extensive Testing and Approvals of the Portola High School Site

DTSC Division Chief Dot Lofstrom began the evening’s presentations.  She reviewed the federal, state and local processes required to ensure a site is safe before a school can be built and the stringent standards IUSD followed.  She stated, “To this day, the District has worked closely and collaboratively with the DTSC to ensure the high standards for environmental safety were met.”  She went on to address DTSC’s April 2014 approval of the school site, which documented the site was safe and was a “green light” for IUSD to begin construction of Portola High School.  Chief Lofstrom clarified the purpose of the additional confirmation sampling is to reaffirm DTSC’s 2014 approval of the school site.  She reported DTSC had determined 10 additional sample locations, with 18 tests in total, were “sufficient to meet DTSC’s interests” and that DTSC selected the locations of the samples.

Some members of the audience asked DTSC for more soil sample locations, in addition to the more than 200 tests that have already been conducted throughout the site.  Independent DTSC Geologist Dan Gallagher explained that the site did not warrant more sample locations beyond the 10 locations identified by DTSC.  He said, “In my professional opinion, 10 samples at two depths…should be sufficient to clear this site.”  Chief Lofstrom then stated that IUSD does not need to identify more than the 10 sample locations determined by DTSC but appreciated the District’s interest in incorporating the public’s input to ensure confidence in the school site.

Chief Lofstrom acknowledged that the Portola High School site has had more scrutiny and testing than any other site on the former El Toro Marine Base, because DTSC “tends to be particularly protective of schools.”  She also told the audience that IUSD has acted with an abundance of caution at every step of the project.  As an example, she cited IUSD’s handling of small amounts of stained soil found on the edge of the property, which was deemed nonhazardous by two independent test labs and DTSC.  She reported that the agency did not require IUSD to remove the soil but the District removed it anyway.

DTSC Workplan

After expressing that it has every confidence in the work done to date by DTSC and IUSD staff and experts, the Board requested the state agency to modify its workplan to include additional testing locations beyond the 10 it had already selected.  On behalf of the Board, Superintendent Walker acknowledged that this is DTSC’s process and workplan but requested the agency to consider input from the public, staff, experts and the Board to ensure all parties have 100 percent confidence in the additional confirmation soil samples.

As part of the updated workplan, DTSC will determine the number of samples collected and the exact sample locations. DTSC committed to an efficient sampling and review process to prevent disruption to the timeline for opening the high school.  The updated draft workplan was submitted Wednesday.  Upon DTSC final approval of the workplan, the agency will report its decision on the number of locations and tests.  Subsequently, the additional sampling will begin.

Superintendent Walker reiterated the District’s interest and point of view regarding the additional confirmation sampling, “It’s an opportunity to reaffirm the original approval under a highly conservative approach, which is what the Board had asked for originally.  It’s the gold standard.”  He continued, “We’ll go through this process and act accordingly, in direct connection with the experts guiding us.”

Next Steps

Chief Lofstrom stated that she believes the test results will be similar to the more than 200 tests already conducted, which led the DTSC to determine the Portola High School site is safe in 2014.  She indicated the samples will most likely “confirm the current conceptual site model that there is no risk to future occupants of the school.”

DTSC’s report on the confirmation sample results is scheduled for April 22.  IUSD is prepared and will act in accordance with DTSC direction.

The public meeting concluded with the Board reiterating its commitment to the safety of students, staff and the community.  They also thanked the audience for their participation and expressed their appreciation for the hard work IUSD staff and experts have put into this project over the last four years to ensure the site is safe.

News Coverage
To read the Orange County Register’s coverage of the meeting, click here.

IUSD Staff Presentation
Click here for a copy of the IUSD staff presentation, which includes the following information:

  • The history and chronology of the school site, located on the former El Toro Marine Base.
  • The rigorous and mandated process federal, state and local agencies must follow to ensure the site is safe for a school. Requirements for building a school are more stringent than residential or commercial developments.
  • The more than 200 tests performed throughout the school site under DTSC oversight.
  • Approvals received from the California Department of Education and DTSC before IUSD could begin building the school.
  • An outline for a proposed draft workplan developed by DTSC and the District for confirmation soil and soil gas samples to reaffirm the safety of the site.

Meeting Videos
Opening Presentation by Superintendent Walker

Presentation by DTSC Division Chief Dot Lofstrom

IUSD Staff and Expert Presentation

Comments from Portola High School Principal John Pehrson

Board of Education Comments

The March 22, 2016 Board Meeting in its Entirety

IUSD Communications
Comprehensive Portola High School Information Page

 IUSD Fact Check: Portola High School Site

Portola High School Meeting Reminder and Procedures (March 21, 2016)

Portola High School Update and Public Meeting Notice (March 17, 2016)

Portola High School Update from Terry Walker (March 4, 2016)