October 16, 2001
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     Local/State News

Work begins on new River Valley schools
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Dispatch Staff Reporter
Tom Dodge / Dispatch

Marion families and government officials said the ground-breaking for new schools in the River Valley district is about students, not buildings.

MARION, Ohio -- New schools to replace two built atop a former waste dump are so important to Monte Geuy that he skipped some work yesterday and allowed his 11-year- old son to miss morning classes.

Both attended the ground-breaking at the site of the new River Valley high and middle schools, which will replace buildings that have been at the center of controversy for four years.

The new buildings will add luster and cohesion to a "very good school system,'' Geuy said.

"This will give us the facilities we need. It's also brought a lot of people in the community closer together.''

In 1997, federal and state investigators, spurred by unusual rates of leukemia among River Valley graduates, discovered toxic contamination on the school grounds.

This summer, the Ohio Department of Health reported that no link had been found between the leukemia cases and the contamination. The schools were built nearly 40 years ago on the grounds of a former military depot, where chemical waste had been dumped for years.

Sections of the property were restricted and officials insisted numerous tests had convinced them that the schoolchildren were safe. Still, federal lawmakers pushed for Defense Department funds to help rebuild the district. And the state pitched in with a special pool of money managed by the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Geuy said many residents worked hard last year to persuade voters in this school district east of Marion to approve a bond issue for the buildings. The revenue also will pay for two new schools to replace the district's three aging and overcrowded elementary buildings, including Claridon, where Geuy's son attends classes.

Voter approval was the final step in cementing the unique combination of federal, state and local money to pay the $43 million cost of the new schools. All of the schools are expected to open in August 2003. Construction of the middle school will begin next week.

Tons of brick, mortar and steel will begin rising on a former tract of farmland on Rt. 95 -- about a mile east of Rt. 98 -- as the one-story, 65,000-square-foot middle school takes shape. Construction of the adjacent two-story, 121,000-square-foot high school will begin early next year. Work on the elementary schools is slated to start after that.

Roughly 250 people attended the ground-breaking yesterday, including some of the architects of the financial agreement: Gov. Bob Taft; U.S. Sens. Mike DeWine and George V. Voinovich, both Ohio Republicans; and U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley, a Findlay Republican. They all praised the effort to rebuild the 1,700-student district.

"What really matters for the future of our children is the learning that will take place in these buildings,'' Taft said.

The officials, including River Valley Schools Superintendent Tom Shade, agreed that the students inspired the rebuilding effort.

"The events of recent weeks in our nation remind us of things we already know,'' Shade said. "A school building is nothing more than bricks and mortar. What it's all about is the kids.''

Sophomore Ben Zucker, 15, also was on hand for the ceremony and helped set up and tear down the temporary stands at the construction site.

Zucker, who will be among the first senior class at the new school, said he thinks the current school is safe. "If there was really something dangerous to us, the school board and officials wouldn't allow us to go there,'' Zucker said.

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