A School Built On Controversy

With Augusta, Georgia's new school year, there is a new dilemma for the class of 2000, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

Because of severe overcrowding, the county is now building a $16 million high school, which is scheduled to open next fall. It is a fancy facility, but it's built upon controversy.

The new site sits between two chemical plants. Along with a citizens group, the emergency planning committee is opposed to the site. State and federal EPA say it could be unsafe.

The students are scared.

"Going to the new school would be kind of hard because you are right near the chemical company and you would feel unsafe most of the time," says the class of 2000's Mandy Lucas.

The site of the new high school football stadium is less than 400 yards from a chemical plant. According to the EPA, a leak from the plant could create a toxic cloud that would blanket the area in three minutes -- a disaster that could cause serious injuries, even death.

"One day something is going to happen," says Pam Tucker, the local emergency management director. Tucker says a spill at one of the plants caused 100 residents to be evacuated last January, and according to her that should be a warning.

"It may be a small event. It may be a very large event, but one day something will happen," she says. "Children are outside on the P.E. field or there is a football game going on. Children could breath it and be hurt."

Meanwhile, School Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke and the school board favor the new site. He says the area already has an established neighborhood, a hospital, and an elementary school.

"The school and the hospital was there since 1930, and if the county government felt that those chemical plants would pose a health risk to the students or the residents they shouldn't have let the chemical plants there in the first place," says Larke.

Barring any last minute court delays, the new school will open on schedule with it s own special disaster plan and a fourth "R" for students to add to their curriculum - reading, writing, arithmetic -- and risk management.

Reported by Byron Pitts
©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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