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  • Voters' nod clears way for new River Valley schools

    ELECTION 2000

    Thursday, November 9, 2000

    Tom Sheehan
    Dispatch Staff Reporter

    MARION, Ohio -- With $43 million in hand, the challenge now for River Valley is to build state-of-the- art schools that will take the small Marion County school district well into the 21st century.

    At least that's what Superintendent Tom Shade believes on the heels of the district's impressive bond-issue victory on Tuesday. Passage of the $19.6 million bond issue, coupled with $24 million in state and federal funds, will allow the 1,700-student district to replace five schools with four new ones.

    The high school and middle school must be moved because they sit on a former military depot contaminated with toxic waste. The three old elementary schools are overcrowded and will be replaced by two bigger schools, he said.

    'We're going to be building four buildings simultaneously,'' Shade said yesterday. "We're going to be busy. We're about a year away from beginning construction.''

    The new schools are scheduled to open in August 2003.

    In the short term, bonds must be sold, building sites selected and purchased, and educational programs and curriculums developed to fit the needs of the students, Shade said. Architectural firms from Columbus and Toledo have been retained to design the buildings.

    Because of the environmental contamination and other issues in this school district east of Marion, enrollment has dropped by about 140 students in the past three years.

    "We do think in time we will be able to turn this around,'' Shade said. "We don't expect any more exodus.''

    Investigations began on the 78- acre high- and middle-school campus more than three years ago after some residents raised concerns about a higher-than-normal rate of leukemia among high-school graduates.

    The schools sit on the 640-acre former Marion Engineering Depot where heavy equipment and machinery were repaired. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has directed the environmental investigation.

    Passage of the bond issue "is a positive step forward'' for the district, said Kevin Jasper, project manager with the corps.

    Jasper said that if the bond issue had failed and the district lost the state and federal matching funds, the planned environmental cleanup would have cost more.

    "It will be an industrial-standards cleanup,'' he said. "If the schools were staying there . . . it would be a residential-standards cleanup with full removal of all the contamination.''

    Cleaning to industrial standards will allow the corps to cover the contaminated area with a clay cap and topsoil.

    He said air and water will continue to be monitored at the school site for the next three years before any cleanup is performed. The corps as well as other agencies and school officials think the contamination has been contained and that the 800 students at the middle school and high school can remain there until the new schools are built.

    Not everyone agrees.

    Some residents say the students should be moved immediately to temporary quarters to eliminate any health threat.

    "It's a concern,'' said Jim McGuire, a citizen member of an advisory group that discusses environmental issues in Marion, including River Valley. "I don't like the idea that it's three years'' before the students are moved.

    Still, McGuire said he is pleased that the bond issue passed and said members of the group will continue their work until the site is cleaned up.

    Advertising executive Steve Badertscher and his wife, Kim, have three children in one of the elementary schools. Mr. Badertscher said he served as a co-chairman of the bond- issue campaign because he wanted to see the district move forward. Two bond issues that would have helped build new elementary schools were defeated in the past year.

    "I think this truly has solidified the district,'' he said. "Certainly there were many hugs in our household this morning.''


    Copyright 2000, The Columbus Dispatch