Schools get $37 million for repairs
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State School Building Authority members on Monday gave Lewis and Gilmer counties $9.6 million to build a first-of-its kind elementary school that stretches across county lines.
Lewis and Gilmer school officials requested more than $11 million for the project to consolidate Alum Bridge Elementary School in Lewis County and Troy Elementary School in Gilmer County in a joint pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary school. SBA staff listed the two elementary schools as being among the worst buildings in the state.
In all, the state School Building Authority doled out more than $37 million in taxpayer money on Monday to build and repair schools in 12 West Virginia counties.
"We funded counties that were the highest priority in keeping students in the state in safe schools," said Mark Manchin, president of the School Building Authority. "But just because we didn't fund a project this time around doesn't mean we won't fund it in the future.
Wyoming County also received $6.4 million in SBA funds to build a Huff Consolidated Elementary and Middle School. The existing school is located in a floodplain of the coalfields and has flooded twice in the last three years.
"The question is not if the school will be flooded again, but when," Frank Blackwell, superintendent of Wyoming County Schools, told the SBA last month.
Twenty-three school superintendents throughout West Virginia asked the School Building Authority for more than $170 million to build new classrooms and renovate crumbling schools.
On Monday, the SBA also granted $9 million to Logan County, $4 million to Preston County, $1.4 million to Barbour County, $2.2 million to Morgan County, $1.4 million to Wirt County, $1.3 million to Pocahontas County and $1.6 million to Clay County.
Hardy and Marshall County each received $250,000 in SBA funds for planning purposes to try to get community support for bond issues that will fund school improvements.
But Kanawha and Fayette counties were two districts that came away from the SBA meeting empty-handed.
Last month, Kanawha school officials had asked for more than $1.9 million to add classrooms and kitchen space to help relieve cramped conditions at Andrews Heights Elementary School in Tornado.
Kanawha school officials wanted to couple the SBA funds with $646,000 in local funds to add six general education classrooms, update the school's electrical system and add a pre-kindergarten program.
Fayette County had asked for $14 million to create a consolidated high school that would combine about 800 students from Fayetteville High School, Midland Trail High School and Meadow Bridge High School.
The issue of school consolidations has been contentious in the community, making full public support a difficult issue, said Ron Cantley, director of operations for Fayette County Schools.
The county has grappled for years with the often-controversial issue of school consolidations. Administrators see consolidations as ways to plug serious budget deficits. Some community members see school closings as uprooting community anchors.
"We're in a Catch-22 situation," said Cantley.
Manchin said community buy-in is a big part of the SBA's decision to award funds.
"The community in Fayette seems fractured," said Manchin. "I'd encourage the superintendent to come up with a project that has broad-based support among the community."
Reach Amy Julia Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.