EAST PALESTINE - The 48 acres owned by the East Palestine School District is definitely not being targeted by school officials for oil and gas exploration, but science exploration.
Members of the newly formed high school Science Club told the board of education Monday what they hope to see the property used for, and that use will benefit not only the school district, but the community, they said.
Senior Rayann Woods urged the board to consider their proposal, which is to create an outdoor science classroom and nature trails on the property that would also be accessible to the public.
Science teacher and club co-adviser Bonnie Sansenbaugher said the plan is to install bird and squirrel feeders to attract a diverse group of wildlife there that students could learn about and observe, in addition to studying the existing natural habitats.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has already approved a $500 grant that will be put toward purchasing some of the feeders, which Sansenbaugher said will draw bluebirds, screeches, hummingbirds, songbirds and even bats.
The club is hoping to get additional funding through the ODNR and Captain Planet Foundation.
Sansenbaugher and anatomy/biology teacher Dr. Lisa Bircher created the club last summer after attending a workshop, and so far it has been sustained through grant funding.
The teachers received $1,200 each to put toward the club through B-WET and a Pennsylvania Sea Grant.
Woods said the teachers have dedicated "hundreds" of hours of their time to the club, and she has spent her study halls working on club projects.
Since the club's creation, the roughly 40 members have participated in the International Trash Pickup Day and taken field trips to Presque Isle State Park and Camp Frederick in Rogers.
Woods said the club collected 235 pounds of trash on school grounds during the pickup day and environmental research was conducted at Presque Isle and Camp Frederick.
Members also spent time identifying trees at Village Park.
"It's been a great experience," Sansenbaugher said.
There are no requirements for participation, although students must fill out an application and answer questions explaining their interest, she added.
She hopes the club will continue into the next school year, but its future depends on available funding.
Woods said she wants future generations, including her seventh grade sister, to have the same experiences she has had.
"We would like to make an outdoor area for all grade levels, for kids to learn and experience outside the classroom ... we don't want the kids in upcoming years to miss out," she said.
She plans to help out with the outdoor science area even after graduating. She and freshman Shane Hamner have already volunteered their time to maintaining the area as needed.
Sansenbaugher said responsibility for maintenance of the property has not been determined yet, as it is still in the planning stages, however, the club will be involved.
The club wants to help out the lower grade levels with science learning by using the outdoor area, and Sansenbaugher said it will likely be open to the public year-round.
The club plans to remove the wild garlic mustard plants from the property, as it is an invasive species, and Woods said a gravel pad is needed so students are not tracking mud into the school buildings.
The gravel will also be used for the nature trails, and Woods said if grant funding is not awarded for that purchase they would like the school board to help out.
Superintendent George Fisk said prior to the meeting that his goal is to use the science/nature area as a draw to open enrollment students and science resource, and believes it will become a trophy for the district.
"The club and I would like to start modestly ... ultimately we would like to see an extensive nature area there," he said during the meeting.
Future trips planned for the club include another visit to Camp Frederick and Presque Isle for the study of beach erosion. The trips will be funded by grants.
The board approved the trip to Camp Frederick on April 5 and 6. The Presque Isle trip was not on the meeting agenda.
Board members agreed the club's proposal for the district land was a good idea. Action was not taken that evening.