CUMBERLAND – Plans for constructing a new Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy elementary building at the town’s Currier Park are moving forward even though some local officials continue to question the site’s suitability for the project.
Town Councilman Manuel DaCosta joined state Rep.James McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls) last week in calling for additional research on the possible impact an old Valley Falls coal mining operation could have on the school project.
The location of a mine shaft from the 1830s coal mining operation has been surveyed as running into the parking area abutting the park near the Lusitania Club off Chase Street and prompted federal mining agencies to bring in truckloads of fill to seal off voids opening in that area in the 1980s.
McLaughlin raised the old local concerns over the abandoned shafts during the council’s Sept. 18 hearing on rezoning the park to commercial zoning for use as the site of a 400-student, K-4 charter school before the panel voted 4-2 to make that change. DaCosta noted last week that he would still like to hear an update on safety concerns despite the rezoning. McLaughlin has argued that the possibility of cave-ins into the old shaft may still exist, and noted a 25-foot void in the park lot was also filled in 2005.
Mayor Daniel J. McKee took up the topic himself during last week’s meeting while noting he wished to let the public know “this is not an issue to be concerned about.”
The town has very strict requirements for site development permitting, and all of the necessary steps will be taken by the inspection division and the fire department regarding the suitability of the site for its proposed use, he noted.
The contractor that would develop the new school for Blackstone Valley Prep has already conducted test borings at the site and found no concerns with its use according to McKee.
And while some local officials continue to ask for additional information on the old problems, McKee said that ultimately could make it more difficult for Blackstone Valley Prep to move forward with plans to finance the $15 million school project.
“There is not need to put them up against this additional cost when they are securing that financing,” he said.
DaCosta responded that he raised the concerns again because he “wants to be clear that there is no liability to the town in light of the past problems.”
McKee maintained that there would be no liability for the town after transfer of the property to the nonprofit entity that owns the school and lease it to Blackstone Valley Prep for its operation as a K-4 charter school.
Thomas Heffner, the town solicitor, also addressed the concerns while telling the Council “there is no credible evidence that there is anything wrong with that site and if there was any danger at that site the park should be closed right now.”
McLaughlin also restated his call for more study of the old coal shafts under Valley Falls while bringing members of the council a sample of the poor quality coal that had been mined in the area. “It’s not all dark clouds,” McLaughlin said while noting he is just trying to get information from the federal government on the layout of all the old mining uses in the town.”
“I would not compromise safety,” McLaughlin said while asking the Council for more time to study the potential impact of the old mining operations on the site.
Blackstone Valley Prep officials could not be reached for comment on Monday regarding the status of the school plan.