The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved spending roughly $52 million to rebuild Kanawha County’s Herbert Hoover High School, whose students have been in trailer classrooms for more than two years.
FEMA employees told the state’s representatives in Congress and the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management on Friday about the grant.
Chuck Smith, the Kanawha school system’s facilities planning executive director, said bids have already been requested from companies to do site preparation, like removing trees and moving dirt, at the new location. The new school will sit off of Frame Road, between the Elkview exit of Interstate 79 and U.S. 119.
In September, Kanawha schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said he hoped construction would begin in November or December. Smith said the site preparation bids are due Dec. 4, but he doesn’t expect the work to begin until early January.
The FEMA funding represents three-quarters of the estimated $70 million total cost of construction. If that funding level holds, the state will have to provide the remaining $18 million.
But DHSEM Director Mike Todorovich wrote in an email that, once FEMA similarly commits funds to the school rebuilding and consolidation plan in Nicholas County, the state will surpass the damage threshold that allows 90 percent federal funding.
If that happens, FEMA could provide $63 million for Hoover.
The Kanawha and Nicholas county school systems demolished several schools damaged in the June 2016 floods.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced the award in a joint news release.
“I am thankful FEMA is finally giving West Virginia the funds we need to rebuild Herbert Hoover High School,” Manchin wrote. “After the terrible flooding that ravaged West Virginia and killed 23 people, we came together as a state and helped each other rebuild. ... This funding will help the Elkview community feel whole again and will get our kids back into their school so that they have the best possible learning environment.”
Capito wrote: “As chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds FEMA, I’ve worked to prioritize this project and facilitate better relations between federal and local stakeholders. With clean up and multiple environmental assessments to clear, the process has been painstaking, but today’s news is the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Gov. Jim Justice wrote in a release that “now we all know Hoover will be rebuilt — bigger and better than before. Go Huskies, go!”
Plans for the school include geothermal heating and cooling, a football field with the home bleachers built into a hillside, practice football and soccer fields, tennis courts, a baseball field and batting cages.
Ben Ashley, architectural services director for the state School Building Authority, which is helping oversee the rebuilding, said the announcement means “we can now spend money on this project.”
“This marks the conclusion of the congressional notification,” Ashley said, “which was the last step of the environmental assessment and the last step of project approval. So this was the final green light we needed before the project could be eligible for reimbursement.”
Sue Chapman, the School Building Authority’s chief financial officer, said FEMA could possibly provide more than even $63 million, if there are unforeseen cost overruns, but she said FEMA must approve increases.
“It’s not a blank check,” she said.