At City Hall Tuesday, there was some controversy surrounding a plan to reopen a Richmond school as a temporary site for a preschool program. Right now, the same group that fought to close A.V. Norrell Elementary years ago is protesting use of the facility for three- and four-year olds starting next week.
The debate centers on whether or not Norrell Elementary School is safe. The school board decided to move preschool kids there next week but Tuesday night the chair told NBC12 she might move to reconsider the vote. That's what protestors, who held a press conference before the school board meeting, are hoping.
Back in 2006, there was an unbearable scene outside Norrell Elementary as Tropical Storm Ernesto spread contaminated flood waters. It was so unbearable; the storm damage became the tipping point for closing the hotly contested school.
For years before that, the group "Parents for Life" had been pleading with Richmond Public Schools to close Norrell, citing concerns about the spread of methane and other hazardous gases.
There are some reports saying the school was built near a landfill, and others maintaining when crews were digging up the ground to build the foundation on the site they also dug up debris from a dump.
Arthur Burton, who is once again spearheading the movement, says he feels like he's going back in time.
"It pitted neighbors against neighbors, political people against political people and as a community we were really just beginning to heal from the last fight," he explained.
That is until last month, when the school board named Norrell as the place to house preschool kids, who were moved out of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School during construction.
"A landfill is for debris, is a dump and if we expect the very best from our young people that would be the last place for them to start their education careers," Dr. Kim Allen, whose nephew is supposed to go to the pre-k program, said.
RPS doesn't think so. They gave NBC12 results from city and independent contractors, who have run tests twice a week since July. Those same workers took questions from board members Tuesday afternoon. Their report shows no methane found and levels within acceptable limits for other gases.
"There's no gas," RPS Chief Operating Officer Andy Hawkins maintained. "So there cannot be any effect on those children."
Right now, pre-k students are scheduled to start September 10th, which is less than a week away.
In the past few years, the facility has also been used for a parks and recreation program and as a library. Additionally, there are houses surrounding the school. Hawkins says none of that would happen if it wasn't safe.
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