The Federal Emergency Management Agency Friday approved giving roughly $132 million to rebuild the schools the Nicholas County school system demolished after they were damaged in the June 2016 flood.
Still unclear is how the total roughly $176 million estimated cost of the Nicholas school rebuilding projects will be divided between the two consolidated schools.
One will be a consolidated Cherry River Elementary, Richwood Middle and Richwood High school, in Richwood. The school system razed Richwood Middle and Richwood High after the flood.
The other will be a consolidated Summersville Middle, Nicholas County High and Craigsville vocational school, all newly combined near Summersville. The school system tore down Summersville Middle after the flood, but the vocational school and Nicholas County High are still operating.
Richwood Mayor Chris Drennen said, “I know it didn’t turn out to be what everyone wanted on an individual basis, but I think the most important thing at the end of the day is we get these kids in permanent schools.
“I think it’s more important that we have those schools constructed, and if our population continues to increase, we’ll have the tax revenue to build bigger schools.”
Nicholas schools Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick declined Friday to give even a ballpark estimate of the budget for each school.
A previous “conceptual budget” from late 2018 estimated the consolidated Richwood school would only cost $30 million. That conceptual budget and a previous interview with Burge-Tetrick pegged the school near Summersville, to be built at the Glade Creek Business Park, at nearly $150 million.
Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, said, “This is great news to hear that we’re finally making some headway on this.”
But he said his main question still is how much money will go to each school.
“We’re really going to build a Taj Mahal on one side and a hallway on the other, according to rumors I’ve heard,” he said.
Burge-Tetrick said Friday that, within the past six to eight weeks, she and the school system’s architect were still gathering input on how the Richwood consolidated school should be designed.
She hasn’t presented a floor plan or budget for either school to her county Board of Education, she said.
“I didn’t want to do that until I had input from the school employees,” she said.
Nicholas is receiving its federal funding as what FEMA calls a “fixed estimate,” so it can’t get easily get more money if there are cost overruns.
Burge-Tetrick said the project’s construction manager expects the schools to open within 31/2 years after the start of construction, which she hopes will begin this spring.
Even before the schools fully open, she said she hopes to be able to move the middle schoolers in each area out of the trailer classrooms they’re currently in and into the new structures. Displaced Richwood High students are currently in the old Beaver Elementary.
“I’m very excited to move forward and the Nicholas County Board of Education members have worked tirelessly to see this through,” she said. “And we’re just so happy that we’ve made it.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office announced the award. “After the terrible flooding in 2016 that ravaged West Virginia and killed 23 people, I knew that it would be a long and difficult road to recovery,” Manchin said in a news release. “I hope that rebuilding these three schools will bring peace of mind to the families that had their lives upended. Over the past nearly four years, these communities have shown us time and again what it means to be West Virginia Strong and continually amaze me with their resiliency.”
His release noted the award may actually trigger even more federal funding — both for the Nicholas school rebuilding and flood-related school rebuilding in Kanawha County.
"Today’s announcement is a long time coming for these Nicholas County schools,” said U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, chairwoman of the subcommittee that released the funds. “Through my chairmanship, I’ve worked extensively with FEMA Region III Administrator MaryAnn Tierney to make sure we take care of this community and get our kids back in proper schools.:
The newly approved $132 million represents 75 percent of the total $176 million estimated cost of the Nicholas school rebuilding projects. The state will pay the remaining 25 percent — if everything remains the same.
But now, the total financial cost of the 2016 flood pushes the state above a threshold to qualify for FEMA to fund 90 percent of the school rebuilding projects in both counties.
If President Donald Trump approves, FEMA will actually provide about $160 million for the Nicholas school rebuilding. That significantly reduces the cost to the state.
In November, FEMA approved $52 million to rebuild Kanawha County’s Herbert Hoover High. That was out of the $70 million total estimated cost. FEMA’s contribution would jump to $63 million with Trump’s approval.
“Now that West Virginia has exceeded FEMA’s threshold,” Manchin said in the release, “I also encourage the President to review our cost-share agreement and approve the adjustment so that these communities have the federal support they need and deserve.”
This story has been updated to include comment from U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.