School takes extra precautions as recovery center accepts patients

Civil fight between city, treatment facility continues

City zoning restrictions and fear of crime have been reasons listed for opposition to the placement of a residential treatment facility at 812 Third St., 201.01 linear feet (0.04 miles) from the nearest St. Mary Catholic School property line. Data from the Washington County Auditor's Office, Washington County Sheriff's Office and Marietta Police Department show surroundings at play in the current civil lawsuit and in concerns raised by parents.

As the lawsuit surrounding the former Woman’s Home continues through the judicial system, the school year is winding up at St. Mary Catholic School and addiction treatment down the alley has already begun.

The school, at 320 Marion St., has installed additional security cameras and upgraded broken lighting.

The home, 812 Third St., has four clients receiving care under the direction of Oriana House Inc.’s Rigel Recovery Residential Center.

But its proximity to the school caused an uproar in parts of the school’s parent community over the winter as Oriana House Inc. announced it was in the process of purchasing the former retirement home.

Oriana House Inc. is a private nonprofit based in northeast Ohio which provides addiction treatment services locally already in Reno and is in the process of purchasing the former Woman’s Home following an arrangement with the Washington County Behavioral Health Board to operate a residential treatment center.

Throughout the winter and early spring parents cited fears of increased drug use and crime near their children and argued the timeframe for Oriana’s purchase was to skirt a changing law in effect this summer banning opioid treatment programs within a 500-foot radius of a school.

But Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram filed a civil lawsuit against Oriana and the Woman’s Home board last month not on the change in the Ohio Revised Code, but on the grounds that the city’s zoning certification process was not followed.

“Now I’ve countered their lawyer’s motion for summary judgment with my own, and they will be given the option to respond,” explained Bertram Friday. “Additionally, we’d be allowed to reply again and potentially amend the complaint if needed.”

Then at 1:15 p.m. June 5 both the nonprofits’ legal representation and Bertram will appear in a hearing at the Washington County Courthouse before Appointed Judge John Solovan.

“I’m asking the court to order Oriana to go before the city planning commission as they should have in the first place before receiving any occupancy permit,” said Bertram. “Then the planning commission may issue a special permit only when they are satisfied that the intent is not in conflict with the primary use of the zone.”

Both the school and the home are located within an R-2 residential zone, per the Marietta zoning map. That is the second-most restrictive residential zone in the city and allows for single and multi-family dwellings and if allowed only by special permit the following:

• Health centers.

• Medical offices.

• Nonprofit or voluntary hospitals.

• Charitable/nonprofit institutions with sleeping accommodations.

• Nursing homes.

• Residential facilities for the developmentally disabled as licensed by the state.

Oriana is arguing that its intended use of the facility falls under that special permit option but that it should be granted that permit by right, while Bertram contends that the additional judgment call must be made by the planning commission.

But the argument fielded by parents both publicly at city council meetings and to the school and Catholic diocese hinges on a coming change to Ohio Revised Code chapter 5119.37 which restricts opioid treatment programs from operating within a 500-foot radius of a school.

However, as the Ohio Administrative Code chapter 5122-40 defines opioid treatment program, that change would only apply if Oriana were ever to administer, distribute or dispense controlled substances used in detox and/or maintenance treatment at the Third Street location.

“Opioid treatment program means a community addiction services provider that engages in supervised assessment and treatment, using any form of medication-assisted treatment for individuals who have opioid use disorders,” says the administrative code.

It states that services included in medication-assisted treatment include medically supervised withdrawal and/or maintenance treatment, along with various levels of medical, psychiatric, psychosocial and other types of supportive care.

“We’re not doing that there at this point,” said Oriana Vice President Bernie Rochford. “If they come in with say a blood pressure prescription we keep those under lock and have them supervised when they take it… but if they are on Vivitrol, which is administered by shot every 28 days, they would go to our non-residential location on (Ohio) 7 in Reno and get their injection out there.”

Rochford said the use of Suboxone, another medication which assists in maintaining abstinence from addictive opioids, may be used later if the Third Street facility also hosts detox programming.

“We’ve been told by (the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services) that the change in law doesn’t apply to us now,” he said. “And if we start doing detox there, suboxone may be used in the future, but we’d be grandfathered in.”

That grandfathering is not a done deal, according to Bertram, who said if Judge Solovan were to order Oriana to appear before the city planning commission, a stipulation under the jurisdiction of that commission could be to offer compromise with the vocal parents and prevent medication-assisted treatment from ever arriving on Third Street.

But until that court decision, the city police department still answers calls relating to crime and violence surrounding the school, and the security measures there have already increased.

“As soon as I knew this could be coming security upgrades were in the works, with requests to the foundation,” said Molly Frye, principal of St. Mary Catholic School. “But all of our changes in policy and our upgrades are things that our teachers and staff have been requesting for years.”

Law enforcement records show that drug activity has already reached the neighborhood.

In recent years, according to Capt. Aaron Nedeff of the Marietta Police Department, most drug activity in the surrounding blocks has actually occurred on Marion Street, directly across from school property and closer than the Oriana site.

“There were three individuals in a car smoking marijuana at 315 Marion in 2014, and an 18-year-old charged with possession of marijuana across from the school that year, then a warrant arrest there in 2016 and a report of stolen property last May,” he listed. “But where it really ticks up is in the 400 block and up Fulton Street, too.”

Criminal damaging, burglary, child sexual assault, felonious assault, warrant arrests, opioid overdose on a front porch, domestic violence, theft and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor are all charges tied to addresses along Marion Street’s 400 block and Fulton Street between 2014 and this month, he reported.

At the school, recent changes have included installation of security cameras along the alley and surrounding the school’s buildings, morning grounds walks to prevent potential hazards from landing in small hands and new lighting.

“(Oriana’s operation) did change our after-hours policy for our doors facing the alley,” explained Frye. “Unless you have a key or code you can’t get in, coaches gather outside the doors and let in in bulk instead of propping the door open, and every morning our custodian walks around the buildings and the whole property and does a sweep. He knows how to handle anything he may find.”

Otherwise, the new neighbors haven’t affected school functions and operations, she said.

“Our focus is our students, it’s a Catholic school, and our goal is to teach them to be good human beings,” she said. “We know what’s already around and whether it’s preparing after news of school shootings or crimes which can happen in any alley in the city, we are a safe building, we are a safe school, and it’s business as usual here.”

What’s next:

• Responses and amendments between the Marietta law director and lawyers representing Oriana House Inc. and the Woman’s Home board of trustees will continue through the end of May.

• Appointed Judge John Solovan, a retired judge from Belmont County, will then hear oral arguments in a hearing scheduled for June 5 at 1:15 p.m. in the Washington County Courthouse.

Source: Paul Bertram.