No one at Irving Elementary School knew of the oil tank located under the school’s asphalt-covered playground until it was discovered last summer.

No one even thought to ask about it until a photo of the school from the 1930s surfaced to members of Irving School’s PTO.

The black-and-white image showed what looked like a small building located on what is now a fenced-off playground. PTO members asked officials at District 97 what it was. No one could identify it.

Eventually, PTO members discovered that the building was a heating facility and that underneath lay a tank that once held either coal or fuel. District 97 has decided to remove the tank as part of the school board’s summer life safety projects.

It will cost the district roughly $18,000 from its current life safety funds to remove the tank. The district tested the soil and found small levels of containments.

PTO co-president Ron Martin said the containment levels were not a major concern to parents the group spoke with.

“We were kind of holding our breath,” recalled Martin at the time the tank was discovered last June. “Yes, there was a tank there but there was very little left of it.”

The district will retest the soil after the tank is removed, and replace it with its asphalt surface.

Martin said if higher levels of containments were found by district inspectors, the PTO and parents would be more concerned.

“According to samples taken by the district, it was very minimal,” he said. “Our feeling is as long as it’s something that is addressed in a timely manner, we’re OK with that. I’m trusting that the district’s testing was accurate. We have no reason not to trust the district on this.”

Irving’s PTO is currently applying for non-profit status. Martin said the group would help pay for the tank’s removal through grants. He said the group’s paperwork would be sent to the IRS in about a month.

Irving’s PTO would like to see part of the area, located on the Ridgeland Avenue said, turned into green space. Irving is located at 1125 S. Cuyler Ave.

A natural grass surface has been ruled out because of teachers’ concern about dirt and mud during the fall and winter months, Martin said.

Oak Park and River Forest High School’s practice field?#34;which is a soft artificial surface?#34;located along Lake Street has a more ideal surface, he said.

The PTO will wait for the tank’s removal and prepare a proposal for the board.

“We have aspirations to turn that space into something else,” said Martin. “Right now that area is fenced off. We want the school to be inviting to everyone and we think this will achieve that.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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