2 elementary schools reopen in Franklin; some parents still concerned about contamination

"We just want to stay here and make this a place great. I grew up here. This is my home," said Michelle Waugh Dahl, the mother of two young boys. (Photo: WTHR)
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FRANKLIN, Ind. (WTHR) - Hundreds of elementary school students went back to class Monday in Franklin.

Their return comes after indoor air samples revealed dangerous vapors underneath the floor were not detected in the air the students breathe.

But it wasn't enough to calm some parents' concerns.

13 Investigates spoke with city and school leaders about the next steps to ensure student safety as a new advocacy group emerges.

Fighting back tears, Michelle Waugh Dahl talked about the discovery of high levels of cancer-causing chemicals in sub slab testing at Webb Elementary.

Detections over the state's screening level were discovered in three classroom areas during the first round of testing, two more classrooms had high detections just last week.

"We just want to stay here and make this a place great. I grew up here. This is my home," said Dahl, the mother of two young boys.

She has decided to home school her kindergartener and first grader despite declarations Monday by the mayor and superintendent that the buildings were safe.

44 indoor air quality tests all came back clear indicating dangerous vapors below the concrete are not detectable in the air students breathe.

"We're glad to hear that we have good results and that our schools are safe," said Mayor Steve Barnett during a morning news conference with reporters.

"I feel comfortable telling you it's a safe place," echoed Dr. David Clendening, who said attendance by both students and staff was good on the first day back.

Dahl told 13 Investigates she believes the indoor air quality results, but doesn't believe that one tests provides enough information.

"I think there's got to be a lot more testing with more data to be able to say whether or not for certain that it's safe for them to go back." she told 13 Investigates.

Her boys classrooms are right next to each other. Initial sub slab testing showed one of the classrooms 12 times over the safe screening level. It was the highest detection recorded.

"It was alarming because we know that this contamination issue has been going on for a while and at this point I think most people don't care whose fault it is, we just want our city to be safe," she explained.

Superintendent Clendening says the district will install a sub slab depressurization unit to address TCE under the floors.

"Our goal is to get it as soon as we can and continue to move forward. We're going to be preemptive, we're going to continue to provide a safe and secure learning environment," he promised.

The city of Franklin is also testing sewers near the old Houghland Tomato cannery site as it searches for a source of the contamination. So far, no results are available due to recent heavy rain.

Mayor Barnett, who previously downplayed the amount of contamination near the old Amphenol site near the schools now believes the plume of TCE contamination is unknown.

"We're not ready to say we're done. We're not done. We not going to be done until we're safe and we've proven that we're safe," the mayor told 13 Investigates.

Dahl and other Franklin residents now want more of a say in what happens next. They're part of Hoosier Action, a growing non-partisan community group now emerging.

"I love Franklin and a lot of us love Franklin. And it's been rough because a lot of people are upset and angry and we have a beautiful town and beautiful people. And we want to grow," said Dahl passionately.

School leaders met separately with parents from both schools Monday night. For now the superintendent is asking them for two things: calm and trust.

The school corporation plans to conduct one more round of air and sub slab testing before the end of school year.