SHEPHERDSTOWN — The biggest stumbling block toward converting the former Shepherstown landfill to a new public library is also its biggest asset, according to the director of the state’s brownfields assistance center.
Brownfields are abandoned and contaminated lands, such as landfills, that through reclamation may be made available for re-use. What often holds back development of such sites is the perception that they are tainted or even toxic, said Patrick Kirby at West Virginia University, where the assistance center is based.
But what props them up is just the opposite. People who believe in ecologically positive initiatives see potential in a brownfield.
The 4.5-acre site slated for the new library is already well on its way to its next incarnation.
“There will be a new, state-of-the-art, green library,” said Hali Taylor, director of the Shepherdstown Public Library.
For 15 years, between 1956 and 1969, the current brownfield was the dumping ground for Shepherdstown’s household waste: old appliances, tires, mattresses, glass and “just garbage,” Taylor said.
In 2000, the state dug five groundwater wells and 28 test pits to look for soil contamination and “the groundwater was clean,” Taylor said. In 2009, at the direction of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Winchester, Va.-based Triad Engineering completed a reassessment of the property that produced the same result.
“There was no contamination then either,” Taylor said.
Triad is a licensed remediation specialist, with experience in brownfield reclamation. According to Taylor, most waste on the site is confined to two acres at its center, and amounts to 13 feet in depth. It’s estimated at 7,600 cubic yards, she said.
“We’re going to clean it to residential standards,” she said.
Large-scale trash removal should begin by the end of summer, Kirby said.
After that, an option is to isolate areas of contaminated soil and cap them, perhaps under parking lots, Taylor said.
A 30-day public comment period on use of the site opens on June 11. There is still some disagreement in Shepherdstown about whether the brownfield site is the right place to put the new library, planners say.
Support remains for the former Southern States location on East Washington Street, a privately owned property that Kirby said carries many of the same issues as the former dump, but unlike the brownfields site, it isn’t already owned by the town. Because the former Southern States once stored fertilizer and fuel, it likely requires land reclamation, Kirby said. And its location on a busy road by a railroad crossing makes access a concern.
A committee is currently looking at how to improve safe access to the brownfield site, once the library is in place. Located across W.Va. 480 from Shepherdstown’s middle and elementary schools, the new site is equally distant from the schools as the current downtown location. The committee may ask for crosswalks and crossing guards, particularly when school is starting and letting out.
But, Taylor said, that might be a difficult mission. “The state is generally reluctant to stop traffic,” she said. “There has to be a lot of convincing done.”
Substantial funding for the project is being directed through the Jefferson County Development Authority, which officially owns the property. A three-year $240,000 grant was received last year, Kirby said.
Another committee is looking at how best to use the existing library building on German Street, Taylor said. Renovation is likely.
“We need to make it (Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible for the second floor,” Taylor said.
One plan is to develop the current library as an annex to the new one. “My idea is to make the downstairs a reading room,” Taylor said. “More comfortable seating and more computers, and let people have a place to spread out.”
A library courier that already serves nine locations in the county, could add the existing library as a tenth, Taylor said. That way, books could be requested at either location and picked up wherever it’s convenient, she said.
Kirby noted that the new library isn’t Shepherdstown’s alone. It is part of the Jefferson County system, that serves 18,000 users. “This is our last chance at a quality library,” Kirby said. “A fear of change is leading to a lot of people not being able to be served.”
The outcome of the current plan, Kirby said, is “the green library on the landfill, a sustainable building that becomes a model.” Shepherd University is now at work on ideas to bring wind and solar energy into the plan. And there are mature trees on the site that have grown since its use as a landfill ended. A tree study will determine which ones must be preserved, Kirby said.
Additionally, the site may be connected to existing bike trails, he said. “There will be an indoor-outdoor feel to the place. I think the conversation is going to change after September, when there‘s been bulldozers there.”