The Kanawha County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to request state funding to add four classrooms and eliminate three portable classrooms at Kanawha City Elementary and extensively renovate the school.
Chuck Smith, the county school system’s facilities planning executive director, said Kanawha plans to request about $5.3 million from the state School Building Authority.
The SBA’s board usually decides each December whether to fund such “needs” grant requests. County school systems compete to persuade SBA board members that their projects are worthy of the authority’s limited funding.
Smith said a “quad” classroom space would be built over the school’s current playground area, at the corner of Staunton Avenue and 36th Street.
Also under the project, a prekindergarten playground would be built roughly in the area of the current portable classrooms, which would no longer be needed, and a playground for older kids would be built in an adjacent grass area, he said.
Smith said the “quad” space would roughly be a square or rectangle with an enclosed classroom in each corner and with the open, common space in between the four classrooms available for things like reading, math and science instruction for small groups of students pulled out of their normal classrooms.
“Typically, in something like that, you wouldn’t have normal classroom desk seating in those areas, you’d have something more comfortable, that kids would get used to sitting on, kind of like a library,” Smith said. “But it could be set up for math or STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] or however you want to set it up.”
Beyond this, he said the project would include making the school entrance more secure, relocating the office, expanding the kitchen, renovating bathrooms, replacing lighting and upgrading electrical systems, plus installing a sprinkler system to suppress fires. The school doesn’t currently have one, he said.
Smith said the Kanawha school system plans to match its SBA funding request with $2.9 million.
He said that match would come from revenue from the school property tax increase Kanawha voters approved in November 2018 to, among other things, improve the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at Kanawha City Elementary and other schools.
Smith said that, if the SBA doesn’t provide the requested funding, the HVAC work at the school will still take place, but the rest of the project would be “tough” to afford.
Also Tuesday, the board fired bus driver Robert Beaver after spending about half an hour in closed session. Beaver requested the board to hear him out behind closed doors, and the board voted unanimously to claim an “employment issue” exemption to open meetings laws and enter closed session.
After emerging from the closed session, board members Ric Cavender, Becky Jordon and Tracy White voted to fire Beaver. Board President Ryan White and board member Jim Crawford voted no.
After his termination, Beaver said the school system said it fired him for looking at his phone for “no more than 4 seconds,” while he had stopped the bus at a stoplight, to read a message from his supervisor asking him to cover another route. He said the incident occurred May 30.
“They said that other drivers and aides had reported that I was using my phone while driving and they checked numerous tapes and hadn’t found any evidence of this,” Beaver said, save for this instance.
“I don’t know if it had been reported or not,” he said of the May 30 incident. He said he had begun working full time for Kanawha in March.
Crawford and school system General Counsel Lindsey McIntosh declined comment, saying this was a personnel matter.
In a rare move, board members also went into a second closed session to “address a legal issue the board wishes to address with the board attorney.” After emerging from that closed session, the board ended the meeting.