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Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Officials concerned about financial side of new law

By William Kincaid
School officials from throughout the area are unsure how a new safety accountability law will affect their districts' facilities and pocketbooks.
This fall local health departments are supposed to begin enforcing Ohio's new Jarod's Law, which was created in response to a 6-year-old Lebanon boy who was killed when a 290-pound cafeteria table fell on him at school. The law requires county health departments to annually inspect public and nonpublic schools for dangerous health and safety conditions.
"I'm assuming we're going to be in good shape," Coldwater Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Rich Seas said the week before school starts. Most area schools begin Tuesday.
But Seas pointed out that because school officials have received little input from the health department about the full extent and requirements of the inspections, he "honestly doesn't know what to expect."
Seas and board of education members began talking about the law and its possible consequences in early 2006. At that time, Seas addressed concerns about one person conducting the entire inspection process, which includes an assessment of many areas such as water infiltration, structural integrity, outside air intakes, exhaust stacks, playground areas and mechanical rooms. Mercer County Health Department Sanitarian Michelle Kimmel will conduct the inspections this fall.
Seas met with Kimmel during the 2006-2007 school year to discuss the law and its implications on the school, and she said there could be an issue with the proximity of water fountains and carpeted hallways. Seas said that is the only problem he foresees.
Fort Recovery Local Schools Superintendent David Riel also believes the school district mostly will be in compliance with the law. He said the only concern is the auditeria because of its multiple levels. School officials, he said, could be required to include railings. Riel said he doesn't know how much the railings would cost and hopes that doesn't happen, as it would adversely affect the aesthetics of the facility.
Superintendent Rod Moorman of St. Henry schools said because the school facilities are still new, he doesn't expect any alarming situations during the inspection process.
When asked about possible concerns at the New Bremen Local School, board member Mark Barhorst said he didn't think so, but was unsure because of the vagueness and unknowns of Jarod's Law.
Carl Metzger, superintendent of Marion Local Schools, said the district's two buildings are ready for the required inspection to be conducted under health department auspices in September.
A walk-through of buildings and a tour of the grounds took place Aug. 3 with school administrators and two board members joining maintenance supervisor Larry Hemmelgarn.
"We did not find any glaring problems," Metzger added. "Our buildings are older, but they have been renovated so there could be issues newer buildings don't have."
While school officials have received plenty of information regarding Jarod's Law, they are unsure about inspection specifics since the legislation covers all aspects of school operation from actual classrooms to responsibilities of the principal, chief administrator or governing body. Additionally, the district must have abatement plans in the event hazards are detected.
"Basically Jarod's Law addresses everything from air quality to boilers to playground equipment," Metzger said. "We know our buildings, but a lot depends on the inspector."
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