Students in two Fayette County schools should in the coming years be gathered under a new roof, as the state School Building Authority agreed Tuesday to fund a new, consolidated prekindergarten through 12th-grade school in Meadow Bridge.
County schools Superintendent Terry George said he doesn’t yet know when the new school will open, saying there’s a perhaps 10-15 month process ahead, including design and soliciting bids from companies, before construction begins.
He said the school “will serve the students in several counties, and also help us avoid trying to transport students on one of the most difficult, mountainous terrain areas in the county.” Meadow Bridge is on the Summers County border.
SBA board members also agreed to help pay to expand part of Marion County’s East Dale Elementary in order to put its students under one roof, and to renovate some Harrison County schools, closing one school and reconfiguring others.
But 23 other counties had their funding requests denied, including Kanawha, where school officials had asked for $5.5 million to extensively renovate, add four classrooms and eliminate three trailer classrooms at Kanawha City Elementary.
Chuck Smith, Kanawha’s school facilities planning executive director, said roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work will move forward at the school because the excess levy property-tax rate increase that county voters approved last year funded that.
He said local funding for that was meant to help win the SBA dollars for the addition and renovation work, and there are currently no plans to come up with other funding.
Also shot down were Raleigh County’s request for a new Stratton Elementary; Roane County’s request to build a new Spencer Middle School onto Roane County High; and Mercer County’s request to build a new school to consolidate Bluewell and Brushfork elementaries.
Multiple other counties asked for help with things like roof and HVAC renovations and replacements.
In all, 26 county school boards requested about $130 million from the SBA for school renovation and construction projects in this year’s “needs” grant cycle. But the SBA only gave out $27.9 million for new projects Tuesday.
The SBA board made these annual grant funding decisions at a meeting Tuesday. SBA staff members had recommended the Fayette, Marion and Harrison projects, as SBA board members learned Monday.
Staff had also recommended funding Hampshire County’s project. The school board there requested about $150,000 to fix the plumbing in Capon Bridge Middle’s kitchen.
According to written SBA staff comments, the kitchen is currently closed, and food is being prepared at another school and delivered to Capon Bridge.
Kitchen waste at the middle school currently flows into public sewer lines without going through the grease trap, and the pipes include 90-degree angles, the comments say. They say these are sanitary code violations that weren’t discovered when the school was built in the 2000s.
State schools Superintendent Steve Paine, one of the SBA board’s 10 members, said the county could pay for the work itself upfront and get reimbursed through Step 6 of the state school aid funding formula. He said he wasn’t previously aware of this option, which he said can reimburse, on average, 70 percent of smaller maintenance and repair expenses.
If there were any expenses left over, the SBA could pay for that next year, Paine said.
SBA board member Steve Burton, of Wayne County, had asked during the Monday meeting why the Meadow Bridge project was ranked above the Stratton Elementary one.
While the Meadow Bridge project will cost the SBA $20 million, with no matching funds from Fayette, Raleigh asked the SBA for $8.9 million, with the county promising to pitch in $7 million, to build the new Stratton.
According to SBA staff comments, that would’ve replaced Stratton’s circa-1939 building, where needed renovations are “nearly impossible,” with a solar-powered and geothermal-heated school.
But Burton didn’t vote no in Tuesday’s vote. There were no nays heard in the voice vote to fund Fayette, Harrison and Marion and leave the others out.
“I’m in hope that there’s additional money on the way, that we’ll be able to fund Raleigh County,” Burton said.
SBA Chief Financial Officer Sue Chapman said that, due to the agency being ahead of schedule in paying back interest-free loans it previously received to fund school construction, millions more may soon become available for additional projects.
Several SBA board members also expressed support for using any additional money to help Mineral County.
It requested $5.8 million, with the county providing $645,000, to replace the entire HVAC and roofing systems at Keyser and Frankfort middle schools, which are suffering from water infiltration.
“The HVAC system at Keyser Middle is from 1976 and is difficult to maintain and repair,” SBA staff comments say. “The system at Frankfort Middle, while significantly newer, is still more than 20 years old, and the central chiller is near failure.”
Below are the projects the board approved Tuesday:
Fayette: Requested $20 million, with the county providing no funds, to combine Meadow Bridge Elementary, which has students up to sixth grade, and Meadow Bridge High, which has students in seventh through 12th grades, into one new school.
“The age and overall condition of both facilities is one of the worst that the staff has evaluated in the last few years,” the staff notes say. “The age and overall condition of this facility warrant immediate replacement.”
Harrison: Requested $6.1 million, with the county providing $2 million, for expanding and extensively renovating United High to turn it into Gore Elementary.
If approved, Adamston and Wilsonburg elementary students would be moved into the new Gore Elementary. Wilsonburg’s current building would close and Adamston’s current building would be “reconfigured” to become United High, under the plan. United High is a school for students at risk of dropping out.
Marion: Requested $1.6 million, with the county providing $1.6 million, to add eight classrooms to East Dale Elementary. This would allow for closing a building called the Meadowdale Annex, which is technically part of the same school but houses prekindergarteners and kindergarteners a half-mile from the main school.
“The septic system that serves the Meadowdale Annex has malfunctioned, and there is a noticeably strong odor around the school,” staff comments say. The annex also has three trailer classrooms that would be eliminated.