Cleanup scheduled for vacation times 

State officials revealed a timeline to clean up toxic soil in the fields that surround Burlingame High School, with the first work scheduled to start in early April.

Chain-link fences have encapsulated the campus — where an excess of PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, lead and arsenic has been found — for nearly two years. However, officials maintain that toxic levels are not high enough to pose a health hazard.

"It’s enough that they are required to clean it up," said Randy Schwartz, director of Burlingame Parks and Recreation.

The cleanup will cost the San Mateo Union High School District about $2.5 million, according to district Associate Business Superintendent Liz McManus. The district has applied for a $1.25 million grant through the state Office of Public School Construction, which could be issued within the next few months.

Cleanup crews from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control have scheduled the task to be carried out during school vacations, Angela Blanchette, a DTSC spokeswoman, said.

During spring break on April 2, crews will focus on PCB contamination caused by a leaky transformer in the back part of campus, a 30-foot-by-30-foot area. During summer vacation, crews will clean up lead contamination around the main building and arsenic contamination throughout campus, with work scheduled between June 4 and July 27.

The Parks and Recreation Commission will review the plan tonight, where the main issue will focus on avoiding damage to the towering pine trees that grace the front of the school.

"It’s a very expensive process because when you scrape the dirt by those trees, the roots are high and are close to the ground, and you can damage them and lose them," McManus said. "The community uses that property for a variety of reasons and part of that is because of those beautiful trees."

While no one knows for sure where the arsenic came from, the chemical was a popular weed killer around the nearby railroad line during the early part of the 20th century, said Todd Lee, a project manager who will select the contractors.

In 2005, arsenic was found during a site assessment, subsequent to the discovery of PCB. The level of arsenic varied between 531and 600 parts per million. Normal readings would be between 3 to 10 parts per million, according to DTSC official Mark Malinowski.

Schwartz said there are plans to replace the back lawn with synthetic turf. Up until last summer, portable classrooms sat on the lawn.

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