The dirt pile on Southwest High School’s athletic field will be gone by Monday, August 20, but the mound of questions raised about the Sweetwater Union High School District’s leadership remains undiminished.
On Friday, August 17, the district called a press conference on the football field at Southwest. The point of the conference was to address the 10,000 tons of potentially toxic dirt dumped on the campus in the spring of 2010.
In June 2012, 10News reported records showing that “Out of 14 samples, 10 show elevated levels of lead, pesticides — including DDT — or petroleum hydrocarbons linked to underground gasoline storage tanks.”
On August 17, the district reported the levels of pesticides and lead were too low to pose a threat to students or residential neighbors. Meanwhile, Southwest students have not had access to their athletic facilities for over a year because of the dirt pile.
Although interim superintendent Ed Brand initially addressed the media gathering, as soon as the question-and-answer period began, Brand walked off the field, leaving the new director of grants and communications, the new facilities director, and the new school principal to respond.
The good news is that the dirt will be gone and the students will be able to use the entirety of their track and football field. The bad news is that it’s costing the district half a million dollars to take the dirt away unless the district can find a way to claim it through an insurance policy.
The dirt originated from a Logan Avenue and 43rd Street reconfiguration project. According to Southland Paving Inc’s website, it is a $3,959,595.50 project, contracted by the City of San Diego. Southland Paving was invited to dump the dirt at Southwest High by a former coach and authorized by a former principal. According to the district, neither of those two people are employed by the district any longer.
However, up until recently, former Southwest High principal Maria Armstrong, who allegedly authorized the dirt to be dumped, was listed as a founding board member of Sweetwater’s new Stephen W. Hawking’s charter school.
A contradiction in the district’s press conference information and district board meeting documents also exists. Was the dirt tested prior to being moved from Logan Avenue to Southwest High? At the press conference, chief facilities executive Thomas Calhoun said the dirt was tested shortly before it was moved.
However, on the March 2012 school-board agenda, interim superintendent Brand recommended that the district receive an emergency waiver to avoid having to bid for contracts to remove the soil. The justification, according to agenda minutes, was “the Southwest High School administration had an enormous amount of untested soil placed on the edge of the football field....”