Further school consolidation might be coming to Kanawha County, but how much and how soon is uncertain.
The Kanawha Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to reduce the district’s nearly 70 schools to about 60 over the next decade. The blueprint names schools that would close.
But approving the plan is only one step. County school board members and members of other agencies still must vote on specific moves before they can be enacted. West Virginia law and state Board of Education policy regulate school closures, including generally requiring public hearings, county school board votes and ultimate approval by the state school board.
If Kanawha relied on state School Building Authority money to consolidate, that would require a vote by that agency’s board to approve funding.
Consolidation talk is driven by the county’s enrollment drop of 2,600 students over roughly the past five years. But the issue is not new.
Kanawha largely did not carry out consolidation initiatives in its previous 10-year plan, said architect Adam Krason, part-owner of Charleston-based ZMM Architects & Engineers. The plan addresses many of the same concerns from a decade ago, Krason said. The county paid ZMM $185,000 to develop the new plan.
“Down the road we are going to have to consolidate,” board President Becky Jordon said. “We are losing enrollment, we do have older buildings and money is an issue.”
But, she said, her vote for the new plan didn’t mean she approves its specifics.
“In the next few years, our board needs to be making some changes if we keep losing enrollment,” Jordon said. “But I don’t know what they are right now.”
Horace Mann and West Side middle schools, which send students to Capital High, would be combined into one school.
“You could currently fit every student that attends Dunbar, South Charleston and West Side [middle schools] in the West Side Middle School, that’s how low the utilization is,” Krason told the board Nov. 19.
Hayes and McKinley middle schools, which feed St. Albans High, also would merge. Krason’s presentation didn’t specify where new schools would be located.
The Cedar Grove Elementary-Middle building would send its middle school students to DuPont Middle, which feeds Riverside High, while the remaining Cedar Grove Elementary would be improved, Krason said.
Five eastern Kanawha elementary schools in the Riverside High area would be consolidated into two.
Belle and Malden and Chesapeake and Marmet would combine. Midland Trail elementary students would be split between the two merged schools.
“There are 12 schools that feed into one high school that has 1,200 students,” Krason said of Riverside High.
Cross Lanes and Point Harmony elementary schools would merge into a new Cross Lanes Elementary Center.
The consolidation proposals are part of what’s known as a decade-long Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan that every county is required to compile. The plans must be approved by the state school board and School Building Authority and can be revised with the consent of state education officials.
ZMM sent a team to each school to assess its condition. The firm’s ratings of each school were provided to Alpha Facilities Solutions, a company the state hired to help with the plans. Krason said Alpha combined ZMM’s information with other data to come up with building condition scores that helped identify which schools were in the worst condition.
About 120 of 140 people invited to take part in developing the plan participated, Krason said. About 60 responded to a survey on possibilities for the next 10 years.
“I think we, as a board, would take all these [consolidation plans] on a case by case basis if and when they arise,” board member Ric Cavender said. “It’s a set of proposed guidelines and tactics to make sure we are doing the best we can to save the taxpayers’ money, or spend it the most effectively and be as conscious of our, unfortunately, shrinking population in the county.”