It might sound contradictory, but environmental contamination is turning into a boon for Baker City.
Not only are some polluted buildings and properties being cleaned up, but the people doing the work include Baker High School students who are learning skills that could turn into lucrative careers.
This fortunate confluence started a few years ago when the owners of a contaminated property in Baker City donated it to the Baker School District.
The district received a $200,000 federal grant to clean up the property, which was the site of a former machine shop, then sold the land for $45,000.
The district has used the sales proceeds to pay Megan Alameda, who teaches environmental science at the high school and at Baker Technical Institute, and to take students on field trips to learn more about working on what are known as “brownfield” projects.
The newest project involves the Odd Fellows Building on Main Street, parts of which are contaminated with, among other things, lead and asbestos.
As with the Balm Street property, the school district’s plan is to clean up the property, sell it, and use the money for the next job.
This self-sustaining program is exciting.
Not only are potential hazards being eliminated, but properties that otherwise would probably be difficult if not impossible to sell could again contribute to the local economy.
At the same time, local students are gaining experience that might not be available otherwise — even on a college campus.
And considering the number of older buildings in the nation, and the ubiquity of substances such as lead and asbestos in such structures, it seems likely that people who know how to deal with those hazards will be able to find gainful employment.