Predictive or Procrastination? Ohio School Shuts Its Doors
Last week an Ohio preschool shut its doors. Not due to lack of funds or attendance, LEADS Buckeye Lake Head Start closed because of its location. The building that has housed the school for more than 20 years is just 300 feet from the Buckeye Lake dam.
The closure followed a recent US Army Corps of Engineers report stating that after years of development, the dam at Buckeye Lake is prone to failure.
“State officials warned the federally funded preschool for children of low-income families that it would have 10 minutes to evacuate and escape flooding if the dam bursts.”
With more than 30 children enrolled in the school, the risk was not worth taking according to Marianne Chilinsky, director of the center. “Our top priority is the safety of our children,” she stated.
The school provides 5 ½ hours of school services four days a week for children ages 3 to 5.
Predicting a Potential Crisis
Government officials noted the risk-at-hand of the school’s location. Although the location of the school had not changed in 20 years, the instability of the dam had increased. The predicted failure of the dam prompted the decision to close the school.
Although parents understand the risk-at-hand, some question if government officials acted in a timely manner.
“We have been left high and dry because of the officials, government and decision-makers not doing what they needed to do to correct this problem years ago. … Now we citizens are feeling that pain, when we should never have to be dealing with it,” one parent stated. Parents were notified March 25 of the March 27 closing.
Randy Cotner, Superintendent of Walnut Township Local Schools, shared a similar view of the timeliness. While his school district is trying to pass a levy, the timing is not ideal.
“That’s been going on a long time, what to do with that dam,” Cotner said. “It’s not that it’s a new thing. I guess the question now is: why is it such an immediate thing right now?”
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the dam has been weakening for years by controllable factors. Below is an excerpt from the article Bill Now Due from Buckeye Lake Dam Neglect. Read the full article here.
In 1971, the state Environmental Protection Agency imposed a ban on new construction within a mile of the lake until a sewer system was installed to handle lake residents’ waste.
Completion of that tri-county sewer system in 1986 sparked a new surge in development. The large landowners cashed in and began to sell their lots to their tenants, including the Braigs.
Soon, residents put additions on their cottages, or they demolished cottages and built larger homes in their place.
With many new homes and new homeowners on the dam, it didn’t take long for residents to stretch out across the walkway and use the state’s lakeside property for themselves, installing decks and patios and landscaping. The state did little to discourage the trespassing.
“We didn’t (encroach),” said Braig. “My husband would not have allowed it. It wasn’t our land. But as new people came in, they didn’t know, or they just thought they could get away with it, and they’d build a patio on the lakefront. Then the next-door neighbor would see that and do twice as much. And the state wouldn’t say anything.”
“There’s been a lot of tug-and-pull and a lot of discussion about it internally,” said Dan West, a former chief of state parks. “It’s been such a long-standing issue that every administration has had to deal with. You just can’t catch everyone all the time. It would take almost walking the dam every day.”
Even docks, said Braig, were not monitored, even though drawings had to be submitted to the park office for permits.
“A lot of people just draw up something little to get their permits and then go back and build whatever they wanted,” she said.
After the Corps report, the state recently again imposed an indefinite moratorium on new construction on the dam, including docks.
Many residents believe that the state created the problem by selling property rights and allowing the homes to be built into the structure, and now the state blames the residents for compromising the dam.
“The bureaucrats don’t understand that they ignored the dam for years, then come up with these ideas, and then they’re surprised when people push back,” said Kreig Babbert, who lives on the dam’s west bank and is a trustee for the Buckeye Lake Area Civic Association.
“It’s not that people don’t want the dam fixed,” he said. “It’s that they don’t want the harebrained ideas that DNR proposes.”
Planning for LEADS Buckeye Lake Head Start
Buckeye Lake Head Start provides 5 ½ hours of school services four days a week for children ages 3 to 5. Because the facility will no longer be of use, students will be offered three home visits a month and one class day per week at a Head Start center in neighboring Newark.
Officials plan to reopen the school once the facility is safe; however, the repairs to the dam could take years.
The question is, was the decision to close the school predictive, or procrastination? Both. The decision was made after predicting the damages caused if the dam breaks. Precautions had to be taken, especially with a school located nearby. The problem, however, could have been eradicated – or handled better – if warning signs had not been ignored for so many years.
A new crisis appeared due to the lack of control over the original crisis – the human caused weakening of the dam.
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