WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The Putnam County Board of Education voted to contract services with an architectural firm to explore the possibility of building a consolidated elementary school that "blurs the line" between Putnam and Mason counties.Mark Manchin, executive director of the West Virginia School Building Authority, attended the Putnam County school board meeting Monday to discuss the idea of combining Buffalo Elementary School and Leon Elementary School in Mason County."The School Building Authority is continuing to encourage a number of ways of being efficient in our operation," he said. "Over the last few years we've been building green schools, sustainable schools, schools of the future, safer schools -- shatterproof glass and technology you couldn't have thought of 10 years ago to make our schools safer."We're doing a number of things to ensure efficient use of state tax dollars. One of the things we're trying to do, and that we're giving high priority to, are blurring county lines. No more are we going to say, 'Here's Mason County and here's Putnam County. We can only build in Mason County and we can only build in Putnam County.'"
One other project of this kind in the state is already underway. Leading Creek Elementary, a joint venture between Lewis and Gilmer counties, is currently being built on the county line.According to Manchin, projects like Leading Creek and the proposed project for Mason and Putnam must be "feasible," but the School Building Authority tends to consider partnerships favorably when distributing funds. The SBA has funded 95 percent of the Leading Creek project.Leon Elementary has roughly 150 students and is seven miles from the Putnam County line, and Buffalo Elementary has about 250 students and is three miles from Mason County. Manchin estimates the cost of building two new schools would be around $25 million.The potential joint school would cost an estimated $13 million, which would likely also be cheaper than renovating both older schools."When you start getting into refurbishing old buildings, it becomes cost-prohibitive. Wiring alone would be $1 to $1.5 million," he said. "Now there are certain policies that are required any time we do any major renovations. We're not suggesting they can't do that, if that's what they want to do. It's just about using our money."Manchin said the SBA will have $50 million to allocate to projects over the next two years, and receives $200 million in project requests each year, meaning competition is tough.As part of the existing laws that govern multi-county vocational and technical schools, one county will be designated the "sending" county, which will technically be sending its students to another school district, and one will become the "receiving" county. Both counties would be part of a joint governing board for the school.Hatfield said although he's unsure whose idea it was to create a combined school, he believes it will be important to explore the option before the authority's need application deadline, which is in December. The board plans to contact Mason County Schools this week to set up a meeting concerning the project."I think we need to have some sort of meeting with them immediately, because I don't know how far you want to move until the boards get together," said board member Jack Coyner. "A lot of things may be done in vain."Buffalo Elementary has received routine renovations, but no major improvements in recent years. Hatfield said the school was constructed in the 1950s, but the school board will not consider closing it if the joint school plan were scrapped.The board will accept applications to fill the seat vacated by board member Debbie Phillips, who resigned from the school board Sept. 30. Candidates from the county's District 3, which covers the Hurricane area, will not be eligible for the position due to state law that governs the structure of county school boards.
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