University official asserts cleanup is complete
By Rose Catlos
INDIANA -- Indiana Gazette staff writer Sam Kusic slaps down a bulging manila folder on the table in the lobby of the newspaper's 899 Water St. office with a "thwack." It contains hundreds of pages of information about land formerly owned by the Kovalchick Corp.
Kusic wrote a Gazette May 11, 2008, article detailing soil contamination at the Kovalchick Salvage Co. The railroad-accessories and scrap-metal business founded in 1928 by Nick and Fannie Kovalchick at 1021 Wayne Ave. is adjacent to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Kusic's folder yields this information: Joseph and Nathan Kovalchick sold the family's salvage yard to the Pennsylvania Department of General Services in conjunction with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education for $10 million so IUP could build a convocation center on the site, according to the Dec. 13, 2005, sale agreement.
Plans for the KCAC provide space for the John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security. It also will house a "4,000- to 6,000 seat multi-use arena/convocation center to accommodate large events, including commencement, sporting events (intercollegiate and others), concerts and other cultural events, conferences, and trade shows," according IUP's Web site. It is scheduled for completion by summer 2011.
Also contained in Kusic's folder is a 65-page, Sept. 17, 2007, report from an Ebensburg-based engineering firm, L. Robert Kimball & Associates Inc., hired by the state. The report outlines plans to "remediate" the scrap yard's residual contaminants in the soil.
Some of the contaminants include arsenic, iron, lead, mercury and benzene (a carcinogen), according to Kusic's article.
Cleanup plans include removing scrap; capping contaminated soil with clean soil, parking lots and buildings; and redirecting storm water runoff to retention ponds. The groundwater cannot be used for drinking, according to the report.
University officials offered various responses about the site's condition.
Mark Geletka, IUP's assistant vice president for administration, did not comment during a Feb. 26 phone interview. He referred a caller to John Veilleux, associate vice president for communications and community relations.
"There are concerns," said Veilleux during a Feb. 26 phone interview. "Those issues will be dealt with if there is any remediation that needs to take place with the land."
He did not specify the nature of those concerns. But the university must perform testing on the site, he said.
The soil holds some potentially harmful contaminants.
Arsenic is the most troubling of those listed, said IUP biology professor Thomas Simmons in a Feb. 26 interview in his Weyandt Hall office. Simmons specializes in toxicology and directs IUP's Environmental Health Science undergraduate program.
A bespectacled Simmons, clad in socks and sandals, reclined in a chair in the middle of his dimly lit office and scanned Kusic's article.
"Arsenic's a nasty metal," said Simmons. "It sticks in the soil a long time. Mercury, too."
But Simmons said development of the KCAC may offer more benefits than drawbacks, if the proposed cleanup occurs. Arsenic levels might decrease if the soil is capped, for example, he said.
"I don't see how driving onto a parking lot or going to graduation will create exposure," he said. "If they did all the stuff they said in that Kimball [report], that would be phenomenal."
But which remediation measures have occurred, and which ones will occur?
"The cleanup has already happened," said Michelle Fryling, IUP's director of media relations during a Feb. 26 phone interview.
She said she could not specify which cleanup efforts have been completed.
Kimball & Associates could not be reached for comment.
IUP President Tony Atwater and others broke ground on the site on Nov. 13, and construction officially began Feb. 16, according to IUP's Web site.
And while the KCAC slowly emerges, IUP students await the effects of the complex on their community.
"It will be interesting to see what it does for the area," said Daniel E. Fleming II, a junior political science major. "And if it will live up to the expectations of being a driving force in the local economy."
Rose Catlos, a junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Indiana, Pa.