MARION, Ohio (AP) --
The state announced a preliminary agreement Friday to move two
schools built on the former site of an Army depot near fields
contaminated with rusted barrels of cancer-causing chemicals.
The Army Corps of Engineers, River Valley Local
Schools and the state agreed in principle to move the high
school and middle school and develop their current property
for industrial use.
State and federal authorities began an investigation of the
school grounds after questions were raised about a high rate
of leukemia among graduates of the high school.
The schools' relocation depends on congressional action,
voter approval of a $19.6 million bond levy and agreement by
the River Valley Board of Education. The board not only wants
to move the schools but also build two new elementary schools
at a total cost of $43 million.
A news conference about the proposed move drew concerned
parents as well as the media.
Robin Millard, 50, said her 27-year-old daughter,
Stephanie, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.
``I've got a grandson I was supposed to be watching today,
but I wouldn't bring him onto campus for one hour,'' Millard
Lisa Hollaway, an English teacher at River Valley High
School, said the presence of television crews and reporters on
campus is a constant reminder of the contamination and
possible health threat.
``We are getting mixed messages,'' she said. ``They tell us
it's safe, now they tell us we have to relocate. There must be
something wrong if they're making us move.''
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved
language in a larger defense bill that gives the Army Corps of
Engineers authority to consider school relocation as a cleanup
option. The vote was 353-63.
That change in the law that governs what the Army Corps can
do is essential to the arrangement announced Friday; without
it, the Army Corps could not legally take part in moving the
Language providing that legal authority also is in the
committee-passed version of the Senate's defense bill, which
is due for a floor vote later this month.
After the defense bill becomes law, Congress then can
legally appropriate $15 million for the Army Corps' share of
replacing the schools.
During World War II, the Army Corps built the Marion
Engineering Depot, which stored and renovated heavy
construction machinery and handled other supplies. A nearby
Ordnance Works made and stored bombs and ammunition. A
prisoner-of-war camp also may have used pesticides and arsenic
on POWs to get rid of lice.
Gov. Bob Taft said that after at least six months of
discussions, state officials concluded that new buildings
elsewhere would be cheaper than cleaning up the site to the
standards needed for schools. He acknowledged there was some
concern about setting a precedent.
``There are other situations that might bear some
resemblance,'' Taft said. ``However, here in Marion the soils
have been investigated, they are clearly contaminated, the
school has already lost a significant part of its property for
ballfields and play areas.''
Authorities say they still believe the site -- other than
restricted areas -- is safe for students and school staff.
Chris Jones, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection
Agency, said the agency will continue to monitor the area
while the students are on campus. After the schools are moved,
he said, it shouldn't be difficult to get the site up to
environmental standards for industrial use.
``Marion might have a problem getting a business to
relocate there because of the notoriety of the site,'' Jones
said. ``But as far as cleaning it up to industrial standards,
it wouldn't be a problem.''
Superintendent Tom Shade said the district will wait until
the students are gone to clean up the area.
Building new schools and cleaning up the site would cost
the Army Corps up to about $25 million for its share, compared
with a total of about $44 million to keep the schools on the
Taft proposes that about $4.7 million for the school
construction would come from the state. He said the state also
would expect to contribute toward the redevelopment of the
If a bond issue is approved in November, the new schools
could open in August 2003, Shade said.
He acknowledged that two previous levies for elementary
schools had failed. ``Part of this was the uncertainty of the
environmental investigation and ultimately what it will cost
our taxpayers,'' Shade said.
Last March residents voted down an $18.9 million levy.
Shade said his administration is asking for $700,000 more this
year, but that will cover a comprehensive plan for the
elementary as well as secondary schools.