The Kanawha County public school system has paid $3 million in state money for property for the new Herbert Hoover High, though the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s environmental assessment of the site isn’t fully done.
Kanawha Board of Education members briefly discussed the purchase Thursday evening.
They also heard that the school system is short 15 bus drivers and that Capital High’s football players should be able to start practicing Monday at their normal field, following track renovations that have diverted Capital’s practices elsewhere.
The new Hoover property, bought from Elkview Baptist Church, is about 240 acres, school system Communications Director Briana Warner said.
It’s across Frame Road from a state Division of Highways location, between the Elkview exit of Interstate 79 and U.S. 119.
School officials say they expect FEMA to reimburse the school system for most of the purchase, at a rate of 75 percent or 90 percent of the cost. At that point, the money would be repaid to the state, they said.
Chuck Smith, the school system’s facilities planning executive director, said “we feel extremely confident on this piece.”
“It went through several layers of the environmental assessment prior to getting to this point already,” Smith said. “If there was going to be an issue, it would’ve been with those layers, and we cleared those.”
He said the “big hurdle” in the now-completed parts of the environmental assessment dealt with the possible harm of runoff from the construction site to mussels in the Elk River.
The board didn’t vote this week on buying the property. School system officials made the move.
Board members approved in April a resolution directing their agents and attorneys to acquire the site. An expected cost wasn’t revealed at the time.
The school system demolished Hoover’s former building after it was damaged in the June 2016 flood.
Board member Tracy White raised the bus driver issue Thursday, referencing last school year. In late August of last year, Warner said Kanawha was short about 30 bus drivers, about 20 percent under its staffing goal.
School system Transportation Executive Director Brette Fraley said Thursday he wants 162 drivers and would love a further 20 substitutes. But he said he currently has fewer than 150 drivers.
Fraley told board members that “if we throw in the absentee rates, then we could be 31 short again this year, on any given day.”
“Money is the only thing that’s going to fix it,” he told board members. He said that driver turnover is also a significant issue nationally, and slightly more than half of Kanawha drivers have fewer than five years of experience.
“People have to double up, they have to do extra runs, you have changes that the kids have to, you know, you’ve got robocalls out and things of that nature trying to keep up, so it’s just challenging,” Fraley said.
Regarding Capital High’s football team, the team normally practices and plays at Laidley Field, in the East End. Without access to Laidley, the team has been practicing at other schools, mostly DuPont Middle School.
On May 16, the board approved paying $562,000 to extensively renovate the track there.
Smith said back then that “we have to basically strip the rubberized surface off, repair some of the asphalt base in certain locations, repair some drainage around the perimeter of the inside of the track, and then [install] a new rubberized surface.”
He estimated then that the work would be done by Aug. 1.
Preseason practice began Aug. 5, but the work at Laidley still isn’t done. Board member Ric Cavender started Thursday’s discussion regarding the field.
Smith said he thinks Maryland-based ATC CORP began removing the track’s rubber surface on June 14, and after asphalt was removed beneath that, the school system realized there was no stone base and the underlying drainage system had corroded.
“We had no way of knowing,” Smith said, until the work on the track began. He said that couldn’t start earlier because of the state track meet and other events in May, such as the Special Olympics.
The unanticipated issues meant the soil beneath the track was too damp to be compacted, Smith said, so the school system had to hire one of two contractors in the state who were qualified to stabilize the soil, basically through mixing it with cement, to create a new surface to cover with asphalt. Atop that, June was a wet month, Smith said.
He said some work still needs to be done to address tornado damage, including installing new goal posts.
Also Thursday, Bob Calhoun, Kanawha’s assistant superintendent for elementary schools, discussed the new “mental health bus,” which will be staffed by a psychologist and counselor. He said it’ll serve students at three elementary schools per day for about two hours apiece, save for Fridays, when the employees’ schedule will be more flexible.
County schools Superintendent Ron Duerring called it a pilot program. Duerring said “we can’t put people in every school.”
Fraley said “it’s an old school bus that’s lost its life, but the engine’s still good, the body’s still good, we’ve put a generator in it, we’ve put, you know, LED lighting in it, made offices, put overhead air conditioning in it, and it’ll have an inverter in it so they can run computers and things of that nature.”
Board members also hired Melanie Meadows as the school system’s new treasurer, replacing Lisa Wilcox, who is retiring Aug. 31, and recognized Capital High teacher Matthew Cox for winning a history teaching award.