Building a Health Center on a Brownfields Site

Frank Vetere, P.E., LSP

Four years ago, GZA was asked by a Boston community health center to review a property that it had recently been granted via a “free” 99‐year lease from the state Legislature.  The health center wanted to consolidate its several functions within a centralized clinic in order to better serve its clients more effectively.  The downside to the deal was that the property had for many years been the site of a state vehicle maintenance garage.

During the initial Site walk, GZA noted several monitoring wells on the property, and a review of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP’s) online files revealed that a state agency was in the process of investigating significant groundwater contamination by trichloroethene (TCE), an industrial solvent, related to an earlier manufacturing use on the property. GZA identified several environmental and geotechnical issues and brought them to the attention of the health center’s Board of Directors.  We left that meeting thinking the project would not proceed due to the potential cost of addressing these issues – but two years later, the health center asked GZA to review the state agency’s Phase II report on the property and to provide an updated opinion on whether the property was suitable for development. 

To advance the project for the health center, GZA conducted additional environmental investigations on the Site and developed an integrated solutions approach that drew on many of GZA’s services to help the health center finance, permit, and build its new facility.  These services included remediation design and implementation, contaminated soil disposal, geotechnical engineering, and hazardous materials assessment and monitoring.  We developed a remedial strategy – a combination of soil and groundwater cleanup and the installation of an impervious barrier beneath the slab of the new building - that allowed for the construction of the health center with a “Permanent Solution” under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan.

GZA also assisted the client in its lease negotiations with the state, in the planning and design of the project, and in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a requirement for Federal funding.  Following a hazardous materials assessment of the existing building to inventory asbestos, PCBs, and other materials that would require special disposal, GZA provided full-time monitoring of the removal of these materials prior to building demolition.  GZA also conducted the geotechnical investigation for the new building, and developed the foundation design concept and specifications with the architect and structural engineer. 

The health center is now providing services to its clients in the new building. Although the groundwater treatment system at the site will continue operating until 2017, indoor air testing has confirmed that the impervious membrane is an effective barrier to vapor intrusion, thus providing a risk-free environment for the patients and staff of the health center.  The Health Center is currently in the process of preparing a submission to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for Brownfields Tax credits.