The West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday approved the Nicholas County Board of Education’s latest school rebuilding/consolidation plan, ending an impasse that took the two boards to the state Supreme Court and led Gov. Jim Justice to speak in favor of keeping a school in Richwood.
The plan would rebuild Richwood Middle and High onto an elementary school in Richwood and build a new consolidated school campus near Summersville.
Seven of the eight current state school board members voted for it; Miller Hall, who joined the meeting by teleconference, was absent for the actual vote. Five of the eight members are Justice appointees.
“It feels wonderful,” Nicholas schools Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick said of the approval.
The state School Building Authority board will meet and may vote on the plan at 1 p.m. Thursday at 2300 Kanawha Blvd. E., in Charleston.
Just about 18 people in the audience at Wednesday’s meeting wore the orange and black colors of Richwood High. Several spoke to the state board members, expressing happiness that the plan builds schools in Richwood, as well as concern over the selected Richwood site and the consolidation of the vocational school in Craigsville with the campus near Summersville.
Multiple Richwood community members have been vocal opponents of the Nicholas school board’s rejected previous plan, which would have consolidated Richwood schools onto the Glade Creek Business Park, near Summersville, using Federal Emergency Management Agency flood recovery funds.
The Nicholas school system razed the former buildings of Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle after they were damaged in the June 2016 flood, and students at those schools have been attending school in temporary classrooms since.
Posts on the “I am Richwood” Facebook page, a forum frequented by opponents of the previous plan, backed three Nicholas board candidates in Tuesday’s primary election. They all lost, allowing two incumbents to be re-elected and a new member to join who said she would support whatever solution a mediation team came up with.
“You were told that there was a silent majority in Nicholas County. Hopefully, last night’s election confirmed that for you,” Heather Tully, founder of the ABC for Nicholas County BOE political action committee, told the state board. That PAC backed the three victors.
The state board rejected the previous plan in 2017. The Nicholas board sued the state and, in October, the Supreme Court upheld the state board’s right to deny the plan.
A team was then formed for a non-legally binding mediation. It was composed of the state and Nicholas school superintendents, as well as the president and one other member of both boards.
The new plan has broadly the same school setup as the Nicholas board’s rejected plan. However, it has Richwood Middle and Richwood High being rebuilt onto the town’s Cherry River Elementary, instead of consolidated onto the Glade Creek Business Park.
Burge-Tetrick said the board would need to get the former Watergate Hotel property near the elementary for parking.
She said the Richwood schools would continue to operate independently and that more public school closure/consolidation hearings aren’t necessary.
Like the plan the state board rejected, the new plan still consolidates Summersville Middle, Nicholas County High and the Craigsville vocational school at Glade Creek.
State board member Debra Sullivan, before voting for the plan, did question multiple aspects of it.
“There’s no information about square footage. How in the world can you budget to build a building when you don’t know what you’re looking at?” Sullivan asked.
Burge-Tetrick said she couldn’t provide all the details.
“So what you’re asking is that we have trust?” Sullivan asked.
“Yes,” Burge-Tetrick said.
“Ultimately, I’m fine with it,” former Richwood mayor Jeromy Rose said of the plan.
He did say, though, that he still has a “lot of reservations,” including that he doesn’t think the Richwood site is the correct location to build new schools.
FEMA still has to provide final approval for the sites.