Weighs decision to continue with water system installment
STAFF WRITER | Desert Dispatch
HINKLEY • Closing Hinkley School in June will save Barstow Unified School District $300,000.
That’s the amount the school district requested from Pacific Gas and Electric to keep it open for the 2013-14 school year.
On Friday, BUSD Superintendent Jeff Malan said he was disappointed and disheartened to hear the company declined the district’s request for the company to save the school.
“There were proposals that were short-term and long-term that we requested from PG&E to keep the school open,” Malan said. “It’s just unfortunate.”
PG&E executive Ray Gonzalez sent a letter to Malan on Thursday stating that their request was “not consistent with our (PG&E’s) traditional support of educational programs.”
“We will, however, continue to work with the Hinkley community and the school district to find other ways to support and create opportunities for Hinkley students,” the letter read.
The San Francisco-based utility company paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements after hexavalent chromium seeped into the town’s groundwater in the ’50s and ’60s. PG&E used hexavalent chromium to prevent rust in cooling towers at the natural gas pumping plant, discharging wastewater containing the chemical into unlined holding ponds, according to the Lahontan Water Board.
The contamination, court cases and settlement were the inspiration for the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.”
Lahontan is working with PG&E to cleanup contamination in the rural desert town about 15 miles northwest of Barstow.
But the cleanup ordered by the regional water regulatory agency isn’t expected to be completed for 40 years. The town’s population has seen recent dramatic decline as more families are leaving and PG&E is purchasing homes that may be affected by the contaminated groundwater, reducing the number of students attending the school.
Hinkley School services grades K-8 and has been recognized as one of California’s distinguished schools for the past three years. The community pleaded with the school board to keep it open, but ultimately board members voted 4-1 last month to shut it down at the end of the current school year.
Karen Moon, a seventh-grade pre-algebra and P.E. teacher at Hinkley for the past nine years, said she was sad to hear that the school was closing, though not surprised.
“With the enrollment dwindling and so many families being bought out, I understand the district’s decision,” she said. “It’s sad for the seventh-graders because I know they would have liked to graduate from here.”
PG&E’s letter to BUSD’s superintendent also addressed a settlement made with Lahontan to install a permanent water system at the school. Construction was expected to begin on the $1.8 million project in the summer.
“Based on the school board’s decision to close the Hinkley School, PG&E plans to hold off on construction of the water system while we consult with the Lahontan Water Board on how best to proceed,” the letter read.
Lahontan officials could not be reached for comment Friday.
Brooke Self can be reached at BSelf@DesertDispatch.com or 760-256-4123.