The West Virginia Board of Education approved Wednesday a plan to combine Fayette County’s Meadow Bridge Elementary and Meadow Bridge High into one new school, while granting Mercer County’s request to keep Montcalm Elementary open.
Fayette schools Superintendent Terry George said he now plans to request from the state School Building Authority an estimated $18 million to build the new, prekindergarten through 12th-grade school in Meadow Bridge, a town on Fayette’s southern border with Summers County.
The state school board has three members who also sit on the 12-person School Building Authority board.
“In the current high school, the entire upstairs has been deemed not suitable for student occupancy,” the Fayette school system’s plan documents say. “The Fire Marshal has indicated the current high school has 21 safety violations. Water intrusion has created more damage in both the elementary and the secondary school.”
George said, “It’s only a matter of time before the first floor is going to be deemed unsafe for students, as well. We have to move on this project.”
“It needs to be torn down ... those kids need something,” state school board Vice President Miller Hall said.
A coal-fired boiler still heats part of the high school, and its students have to go to the elementary, which is right next door, to eat because the high school has no kitchen or dining space, the documents say. They say the schools have no firefighting sprinkler system, nor are they fully accessible to physically disabled students.
The community has no middle school. Students up to the sixth grade go to the elementary school and the rest go to the high school. They had about 425 students combined as of early last school year.
In July 2017, the state board approved the Fayette Board of Education’s request to close multiple schools as part of a sweeping consolidation plan. The only school the state board refused to allow the county board to close was Meadow Bridge High.
The Fayette school board said it wanted back then to turn Meadow Bridge Elementary into a prekindergarten- through eighth-grade school that would take in Meadow Bridge High’s seventh- and eighth-graders.
Under that plan, Meadow Bridge High’s ninth- through 12th-graders would’ve gone off to Midland Trail High, about 25 miles away, or Greenbrier County’s Greenbrier West High, 16 miles away.
The new plan, approved Wednesday, says the pre-K through 12th grade Meadow Bridge school would act as sort of a regional school, possibly hosting students from Fayette, Summers, Greenbrier and Raleigh counties.
The high school’s standalone gym is planned to be attached to the new building.
George said that if the School Building Authority board awards funding this December, construction could start in August or September of 2020, and the school could be ready for students about 16 months later.
Fayette’s plan estimates that, by merging the two schools, the school system will save $159,000 annually on utilities, maintenance and insurance coverage. It says the merger will allow the combined school to have full-time art and counselor programs and foreign language opportunities for younger students.
Regarding Mercer County, that school system had planned a new school to consolidate Brushfork, Bluewell and Montcalm elementaries. Wednesday’s approved plan change removes Montcalm from that consolidation.
Mercer schools Superintendent Deborah Akers said Montcalm is the only one of those three elementaries that feeds into Montcalm High, and closing that elementary, which currently includes sixth graders, would mean adding sixth grade to the high school. She said the high school currently has grades 7 through 12.
“The community feedback that we received was that they were very attached to their school, they wanted to keep their school there. They have concerns about the high school staying open if we close the elementary school, and so we listened to what they were saying,” Akers said.
Wednesday’s votes were voice votes with no nays heard. Some board members joined by teleconference, and Tom Campbell was the only member unheard from throughout the meeting.