Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) about School Sites
1. How do I know I need to involve the Department?
DTSC oversees the environmental review process (Ed. Code, § 17210, 17210.1, 17213.1, and 17213.2) used to determine if a release or threatened release of hazardous material or presence of naturally occurring hazardous material exists at new or expanding school sites and if it presents a risk to human health or the environment.
Education Code section 17078.54, subsection (c)(1)(A), and section 17268 require toxic substances review of new construction or modernization, not exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (Ed. Code, § 17268, subsec. (c)), of K-12 school facilities when school districts, county offices of education, and charter entities (collectively known as local educational agencies (LEAs)) seek state funding pursuant to the Leroy F. Greene School Facilities Act of 1998 (Ed. Code, tit. 1, div. 1, pt. 10, ch. 12.5).
School sites that will not use state funds for acquisition or construction, including those being developed by project proponents other than school districts, may voluntarily participate in the school environmental review process.
2. What is the role of the school district in the environmental review process? My consultant takes care of all the environmental activities that DTSC requires; as a result, do I really need to be a part of the communication with DTSC?
The school district is responsible for the project and contracts with consultants to provide environmental services. As the client paying a consultant, a school district should be involved in the environmental review process to ensure consultant services are commensurate with costs. Additionally, as the party responsible for the project, it is important for school districts to actively participate in the environmental review process. School district responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Contract with an environmental assessor to supervise the preparation of, and sign, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)) or Preliminary Environmental Assessment (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(4)(B)) of the proposed school site.
- Submit a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, proof of qualifications of the environmental assessor, and $1,500 fee to DTSC (Ed. Code § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(2)).
- Enter into an agreement with DTSC for oversight and reimbursement of associated costs (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(4)(B) and (a)(11), § 17213.2, subsec. (a) and (h)).
- Submit the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, including any additional information requested by DTSC, and the Preliminary Environmental Assessment to the Department of Education (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(4)(A) and (a)(5)).
- Provide notice to residents in the immediate area prior to commencement of work on a Preliminary Environmental Assessment (Ed. Code, § 17210.1, subsec. (b)).
- Publish a public notice that the Preliminary Environmental Assessment has been submitted to DTSC in a local newspaper of general circulation and at the proposed school site, hold a public hearing, and make the assessment and associated correspondence available to the public ( Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(6)).
- Comply with Health and Safety Code public participation requirements if further response actions beyond a Preliminary Environmental Assessment are required ( Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(7)).
- Evaluate the acquisition or construction project if further response actions beyond a Preliminary Environmental Assessment are required ( Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(10)).
DTSC will provide review, approval and oversight of the environmental review process. To facilitate this, all documents submitted to DTSC should be prepared in accordance with federal, state and local requirements, guidance and advisories. Additionally, all documents should be complete, factual, accurate and suitable to support public record. This includes provided objective conclusions and recommendations supported by environmental assessment or investigation results. Quality assurance/quality control measures should be employed for all documents prior to submittal to DTSC review. This should allow for efficient project review, approval and oversight that will result in time and cost savings for the project.
3. What are the roles and responsibilities of agencies involved in obtaining state funding for new construction or modernization for school sites?
- California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), School Property Evaluation and Cleanup Division (SPECD) – Oversight of the environmental review process as specified in Education Code, sections 17210, 17210.1, 17213.1, and 17213.2.
- California Department of Education (CDE), School Facilities Planning Division (SFPD – Review and approval of school sites based on environmental hazards, proximity to airports, freeways, and power transmission lines specified in Education Code, sections 17212, 17212.5, 17213, 17215, 17215.5. Review of construction plans focused mainly on the educational adequacy of the proposed facilities and whether the needs of students and faculty will be met.
- Department of General Services, Division of the State Architect (DSA) – Review of plans and specifications to ensure compliance with California building codes with an emphasis on structural and seismic safety.
- Department of General Services, Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) – Verifies funding criteria have been met and prepares agendas for the State Allocation Board meetings that serve as the underlying source document used by the State Controller’s Office for the appropriate release of funds.
- State Allocation Board (SAB) – Responsible for determining the allocation of State resources including proceeds form General Obligation Bond Issues and other designated State funds used for the new construction and modernization of public school facilities. The State Allocation Board is comprised of the Director of Finance, the Director of the Department of General Services, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, three members of the Senate, three members of the Assembly, and one appointee by the Governor.
- Involve DTSC early in the site consideration to facilitate early identification and resolution of potential issues.
- Participate in a scoping meeting with the school district, environmental assessor, and DTSC as the initial step for a Preliminary Environmental Assessment and each phase of any response action. The school district and environmental assessor should present a detailed site description and background, proposed strategy and schedule for the project. DTSC will provide recommendations, as needed, and request a work plan documenting the investigation approach.
- Submit work plans for review and obtain DTSC approval prior to conducting any field activities for environmental assessments or investigations.
- Develop a project schedule integrating school district milestones or deadlines, consultant activities and DTSC review and approval time frames for each school project.
- Submit documents to DTSC that are complete, factual, accurate and suitable to support public record. Documents should include objective conclusions and recommendations supported by environmental assessment or investigation results.
5. What is partial site approval and how is it obtained?
Partial site approval allows construction to proceed on portions of a site not affected by hazardous materials. In accordance with Education Code, section 17213.2, subsection (f), construction may proceed on portions of a site that DTSC determines are not affected by the release or threatened release of hazardous materials or presence of naturally-occurring hazardous materials if all of the following conditions apply:
- Portions of the site not affected by hazardous materials have been fully characterized.
- Site conditions will not pose a significant threat to the health and safety of construction workers.
- Construction will not interfere with the response action.
Further, a district may not occupy a school building until DTSC certifies that the response action has been completed.
Step One: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment
1. Am I required to complete a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
A school district can elect to skip submittal of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and proceed directly to a Preliminary Environmental Assessment (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)). Although, submittal of a separate Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is not necessary when proceeding directly to a Preliminary Environmental Assessment, the information required for a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment should be submitted as background information before the scoping meeting. DTSC typically recommends the district go directly to the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process if industrial, commercial, agricultural, or other land uses may have adversely impacted the property.
2. Once I submit a Phase I to DTSC for review, how long before I receive a determination?
DTSC is required to review and approve Phase I Environmental Site Assessments within 30 calendar days after receiving the assessment, proof of environmental assessor qualifications, and fee. However, if the assessment is not complete and DTSC requests additional information, DTSC is required to review and approve the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment within 30 calendar days after receiving the requested information (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(2). Additional information requested by DTSC can be provided by telephone or electronically (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(3)).
3. What is a Phase I Addendum?
The Phase I Addendum includes results of sampling and analysis, limited to results of lead in soil from lead-based paint or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in soil from electrical transformers that is submitted to the Department along with or after the submittal of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for the site.
If DTSC concurs with the findings of a the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment that the only recognized environmental conditions associated with the site are lead in soil from lead-based paint or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in soil from electrical transformers, results of sampling and analysis for these issues can be submitted as part of the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment in a Phase I Addendum, rather than a Preliminary Environmental Assessment. Sampling and analysis must be conducted in accordance with the procedures for sampling for lead in soil from lead-based paint (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 22, div. 4.5, ch. 51.5, § 69105) and sampling for PCBs in soil from electrical transformers (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 22, div. 4.5, ch. 51.5, § 69106). DTSC can be consulted during development of sampling strategies. Additionally, please notify DTSC prior to sampling activities.
Step Two: Preliminary Environmental Assessment
1. How long does the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process take?
Time to complete the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process varies depending on the history of the site and surrounding land use (for example, a nearby gasoline station had a release that could have impacted the property). Typically, the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process from agreement execution through determination is approximately six months. DTSC requests that the district submit a project schedule integrating school district milestones or deadlines, consultant activities and DTSC review and approval time frames to keep the project on track.
2. What happens when chemicals are found at the school property?
As part of the Preliminary Environmental Assessment, chemicals detected on the property are evaluated using a human health risk screening process. Based on results of the risk evaluation, DTSC may issue a further action requirement for the property. This may involve further investigation and cleanup of contamination.
3. How much does a Preliminary Environmental Assessment cost for DTSC oversight?
DTSC costs for a Preliminary Environmental Assessment varies depending on the size and complexity of the property being evaluated. A cost estimate based on information provided on the Environmental Oversight Program (EOP) application is developed and presented with the agreement so the district may review estimated costs prior to entering into the agreement.
4. How do I enter into the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process?
There are two ways to enter into the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process. The district may submit a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for DTSC to review and approve. DTSC will then determine whether a Preliminary Environmental Assessment is required based on current and historical land uses. If the district knows that there is potential contamination on the school site, the district may go directly to the Preliminary Environmental Assessment process by completing an Environmental Oversight Program (EOP) application to enter into an Environmental Oversight Agreement (EOA) with DTSC (Ed. Code, § 17213.1, subsec. (a)(4)(B)).
5. Do I need to distribute a public notice prior to field sampling? To whom?
School districts are required to provide a notice to residents in the immediate area prior to commencement of work on a Preliminary Environmental Assessment utilizing a format developed by DTSC (Ed. Code, § 17210.1, subsec. (b)).
DTSC suggests that “immediate area” be considered as the area in the line of sight of the proposed project site. DTSC is interpreting the intent of this requirement is to provide residents in the vicinity of the proposed project with advance notice of field work such as drilling, sampling, and other environmental data collection activities. DTSC suggests that the notice should be mailed so that it is received by the residents no less than three to five days in advance of field work. DTSC will coordinate with the district in determining the level of community interest and notification warranted or appropriate and will make available an approved generic notice upon request.
Step Three: Response Action
1. Who prepares the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents for response actions (removal or remedial)?
CEQA does not apply to additional investigations or evaluations such as Supplemental Site Investigations or Feasibility Studies.
Approval of a Removal Action Workplan (RAW) or Remedial Action Plan (RAP) is considered a discretionary action.
As a result, DTSC is required to comply with CEQA when approving either a RAW or RAP. As the lead agency approving a proposed response action, DTSC prepares the appropriate CEQA documents. DTSC will coordinate with the school district to obtain site-specific information to be included.
Applications and Agreements
1. What agreement do I need?
An agreement between the school district or project proponent and DTSC is necessary to pay for DTSC oversight costs of environmental assessment, investigation or response for a proposed school property. The most common agreements and respective applicability listed below.
Type of Agreement
Other Project Proponents
Environmental Oversight Agreement (EOA)
Preliminary Environmental Assessment
Voluntary Cleanup Agreement (VCA)
Response Action (1)
Preliminary Environmental Assessment
Response Action (1)
School Cleanup Agreement (SCA)
Response Action (1) – for districts planning to obtain final site and plan approval and full and final funding prior to completion of required response actions
(1) Response Action may include Supplemental Site Investigation, Removal Action Work Plan, Feasibility Study or Remedial Action Plan.
2. How do I obtain an agreement?
Complete an application for either the Environmental Oversight Program (school district) or Voluntary Cleanup Program (other project proponents). Applications must be signed by an authorized representative of the school district or project proponent. Submit the completed application to:
Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program
Department of Toxic Substances Control
5796 Corporate Avenue
Cypress, California 90630
Ms. Rivera will prepare and forward the appropriate agreement for review and signature. Then, the project will be assigned to a project manager who will contact the school district or project proponent to schedule a scoping meeting.
3. After I submit an application, how long before work on the project begins?
Within 15 days after receipt of an application, the DTSC Oversight Agreement Coordinator will forward two original agreements to the school district or project proponent for signature. The school district or project proponent reviews site-specific information to ensure accuracy and signs both originals and returns them to DTSC for execution. Upon execution, DTSC will forward a fully executed original to the school district or project proponent.
Concurrently, a project manager will be assigned and will contact the district or project proponent to schedule a scoping meeting. An executed agreement is required for DTSC to begin oversight for a project.
For additional information please refer to Environmental Oversight Agreements, School Property Evaluation and Cleanup Division – February 2002
4. Once an agreement is entered into, can it be terminated?
An Environmental Oversight Agreement (EOA) or Voluntary Cleanup Agreement (VCA), may be terminated for any reason by either party (DTSC, school district or other project proponent) after giving 30 days written notice to the other party.
A School Cleanup Agreement (SCA) may be terminated by the school district after giving 30 days written notice to DTSC and if at least one of the following conditions applies.
- School district withdraws its application for state funds prior to completion of required response actions
- Department of Education does not provide final site or plan approval
- State Allocation Board does not approve full funding
Consultant Qualifications and Selection
1. What are the requirements for consultants? Who is a qualified consultant?
The requirements for consultants conducting environmental assessments, investigations or response actions for proposed school properties are specified in section 17210, subsection (b) in the Education Code in the definition for environmental assessor. The requirements are summarized below and any registrations should be current.
- Professional Engineer (P.E.) registered with the State of California – Check the status of professional engineers through the license lookup for the Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.
- Geologist (P.G.) registered with the State of California – Check the status of registered geologists through the license lookup for the Board for Geologists and Geophysicists.
- Licensed hazardous substance contractor with a degree that includes at least 60 units in an environmental-related field – Check the status of a hazardous substance contractor through the licensed contractor check provided by the Contractors State License Board.
- For consultants conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, two years of experience preparing these assessments.
- For consultants conducting Preliminary Environmental Assessment, three years of experience conducting these assessments.
2. How do I select a consultant to conduct assessments, investigations or response actions?
The following are some recommendations for selecting a consultant.
- Contact other companies or organizations who have used consultants for a similar project.
- Determine if the consultant has experience gaining approval from DTSC on similar projects.
- Request a Statement of Qualifications containing basic information on the company, staff and project experience.
- Check if a consultant has worked effectively with governmental agencies by reviewing agency files for comments letters on documents submitted. Most documents submitted for DTSC review are revised in the normal course of a project; however, long comment letters from DTSC and situations involving repeated rejection due to inadequate or poor preparation may be indicative of the quality of a consultant. DTSC files are available for public review. To make an appointment to review files contact the File Room Technician in the DTSC Regional Office nearest you.
9211 Oakdale Avenue
Chatsworth, California 91311
Phone: (818) 717-6500
FAX: (818) 717-6527
Cypress Regional Office
5796 Corporate Avenue
Cypress, California 90630-4732
Phone: (714) 484-5300
FAX: (714) 484-5302
Sacramento Regional Office – Cal Center
8800 Cal Center Drive
Sacramento, CA 95826-3200
Phone: (916) 255-3545
FAX: (916) 255-3785
- Additional helpful information can be found in the DTSC Site Mitigation Program, Voluntary Cleanup Program, “Guide to Selecting a Consultant,” dated June 2001.
Fees and Payment
1. When do I have to submit money for payment of DTSC oversight?
- Phase I Environmental Site Assessment – A check for the $1,500.00 fee should be submitted to:
1001 I Street, 21st Floor
P.O. Box 806
Sacramento, California 95812-0806
The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment should be sent to the Phase 1 Coordinator:
Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program
5796 Corporate Avenue
Cypress, California 90630
- Preliminary Environmental Assessment – Once the agreement is signed by the school district or proponent and returned to DTSC for signature, a fully executed agreement is returned to the school district or proponent with instructions regarding the amount of the advance payment and where to send the check. Typically, the advance payment required is 50 percent of the total costs estimated in the agreement. The advance payment shall be made no later than ten (10) calendar days after the agreement is fully executed.
- The school district or proponent will be billed quarterly and must be paid within sixty (60) days. Billings will reflect any advance payment.