UST Removal Helps to Ensure a Safe and Healthy Future for Historic Orange Street School

Thursday, July 16, 2020 - 6:00pm

A state program helped make a historic building in Fayetteville, North Carolina safer for years to come with the removal of two underground storage tanks (USTs) in November of 2019. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Division of Waste Management worked with the Orange Street School Restoration and Historical Association to have two USTs removed from the property of the Orange Street School.

Orange Street School is the oldest public education structure remaining in Fayetteville, and it serves as a reminder of the history of black education in the area. Orange Street School - image provided by Google Maps

With more than 100 years of history, Orange Street School was built in 1915 as a school for African American students. From 1916 until 1927 the building housed an elementary school. In 1927, E.E. Smith High School was opened on the second floor of the building and remained there until 1940. In the following years, the building continued to house an elementary school and a junior high school, until 1953 when it became an office space for the district’s Board of Education. The building sat vacant from 1983 to 1986 when the Orange Street School Restoration and Historical Association was founded. The association then took over the building and it currently functions as a community center and museum.

According to UST Section records, two USTs were installed on the Orange Street School property in May 1976. In 2018, the division’s UST Section identified them as abandoned tanks, and they were placed into the Abandoned Tank Program. This program properly closes or removes USTs that pose a potential hazard to the environment or human health because of leaks to the groundwater or possibility of explosions and for which there is not a responsible party. Because of the building’s use as a museum and community center which hosts tours, children’s programs and serves as a meal site for the homeless, the UST Section chose to remove these tanks which were at risk of corroding, collapsing or exploding due to the petroleum in the tanks.

The Abandoned Tank Program uses funds from North Carolina’s Gasoline Tax to fund an “Abandoned Tank Contract,” which pays contractors to remove USTs and to address contamination. Because of the hazard these USTs posed, the section was able to use the Contract to remove the UST systems at the Orange Street School. On Nov. 11, 2019, after locating the tanks and removing all remaining liquid, a contractor for the UST Section excavated one 1,500-gallon gasoline UST and one 3,000-gallon gasoline UST and removed them from the property. 

Strong petroleum odors were evident in the surrounding soil after removal of the 1,500-gallon UST, and testing revealed soil contamination. Approximately 200 tons of contaminated soil were removed, and a monitoring well was installed within the tank bed to allow groundwater sampling for contamination. Following the UST and soil removal, the contractor provided a summary of the results, which showed that remaining contamination was below levels which would require further actions and therefore no longer pose a risk to public health or the environment. A Notice of Residual Petroleum was filed at the Cumberland County Register of Deeds for future reference.

The USTs at the Orange Street School posed a risk for the environment, as well as the Fayetteville community who continues to use the building. Having them safely removed using the state’s Abandoned Tanks Contract ensures a healthy and safe future for the Orange Street School while preserving its remarkable history.

Hannah Anglin