Construction of a new elementary school in Williamstown is among the most pressing needs of the entire Wood County School System. The current school is antiquated and inadequate in every way and no amount of repair can do anything to change that fact. A new school is warranted and has been for some time. Finding a new site has been the goal of a group of Williamstown residents and officials during the past several months.
This group, Williamstown Elementary New School Steering Committee, presented its two recommended sites during Tuesday’s meeting of the Wood County Board of Education.
However, the two sites recommended by the group should raise questions, both from the board and Williamstown residents.
The committee looked at 11 locations throughout the city, including the site of the current elementary school before narrowing it to the final two. Both of those locations-one at the site of the current Williamstown High School football stadium, and the other, the Fenton Art Glass property-have advantages, but also serious problems.
While we are not suggesting the committee’s intent was anything other than finding the best location possible for the school, it seems this choice would certainly favor the Fenton site.
The stadium site surely will be unpopular because residents would not, to say the least, be supportive of losing their football stadium. Changing the stadium and the track would be at least as big a chore as finding a site for the school. And since the state’s School Building Authority does not fund athletic facilities, this cost would fall entirely on the Wood County Board of Education.
But the Fenton site, while attractive because of its 11 acres, should raise serious red flags among BOE members. It has been an industrial site for over a century-complete with the everyday use of an assortment of toxic chemicals. Committee members say the potential school site is separate from the factory, and tests have shown no environmental concerns. However, the environmental standards required to build something like a school are much more strict than they would be to expand an existing factory operation.
And by placing a school on the property would eliminate the site ever being used again as a taxpaying, job-creating business. While the Fenton gift shop will continue to operate, Mayor Jean Ford said she does not believe the factory will be used again. This may be true. However, if a school is built there, it certainly would be true.
The board’s first concern is the longterm safety of students who will be attending the new school. And we certainly are not saying the Fenton site should not be considered. It may be the best site. But due diligence is needed now-not after the site is purchased. If tests later show any problems, the board can forget any funding from the SBA, and will find itself the owner of a worthless 11-acre site.