The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 10, 2013

Fayette County Schools: Committee gets a look at upgrades breakdown

Architect’s definition of critical or recommended is ‘fuzzy’

FAYETTEVILLE — Huddled around notecards and a 36-page report of projected needs for Fayette County school buildings, members of a facilities advisory committee on Thursday viewed for the first time a breakdown of their schools’ critical and recommended upgrades.

On the notecards, they put forth their most burning questions about the report to the architect who created it.

Composed of principals, school staff, community members, and students, the committee is tasked with reviewing performance and facilities data and assisting with a school-level forum to get feedback from the broader school community.

Come June 4, they will also make a recommendation to the county superintendent on the feasibility of a bond call to repair and maintain existing buildings.

“It’s no surprise that we have been found in deficit for providing quality facilities. It is time and it is right for us to begin to address those issues,” Fayette County Schools Superintendent Keith Butcher told those gathered.

To do that, the schools need the support of Fayette County citizens, the state Board of Education, and the School Building Authority.

According to the architect’s report, to address critical needs only — things like new roofs and HVAC systems — the county must cough up nearly $46 million. These items are needed to keep schools in operation, period, and are “nonnegotiable,” says Butcher.

The architect’s recommended needs total $136 million, which would allow for other important upgrades like floor covering, new restrooms, and safe school entrances.

The difference between the critical and recommended needs is “a little fuzzy,” said ZMM Architects employee David Ferguson. One parent might see a safe school entrance as critical, for example, though it is listed as recommended. He says the lists are “only a draft” and can be adjusted, depending on input from schools.

Between now and May 24, schools will hold individual meetings to prioritize their top five recommended needs and also put forward a “wish list” of three items not already included in the report. That could include anything from a new football field to a new facility altogether.

Some schools had very specific questions. For instance, Collins Middle wanted to know why plumbing and water issues were not listed under critical needs. Meadow Bridge Elementary asked what materials a new roof would be made out of.

Others, like Fayetteville Elementary, asked broader questions like: If the bond does not pass, or if we do not send out a bond call, what course of action do we follow? Ferguson couldn’t answer that one.

No one has the answer to that question at this point. Officials are putting their faith in the community input process to highlight a path forward that citizens can get behind.

Board member Leon Ivey asked Ferguson about certain needs he saw as critical — Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and safe school entrances, for example — that were listed under recommended upgrades only.

“We’re talking about keeping these buildings open for another 20 to 30 years. ... If it’s on this list, is it not critical?” he asked.

“I think everyone would agree that most everything on this list would be critical,” said Ferguson. “How I determined the (critical needs) is things that would stop you from having school and delivering your curriculum.”

The $136 million price tag to make all recommended upgrades, which Ferguson called “massive,” is the result, in part, of decades of deferred maintenance by the school system as citizens and leaders fought over consolidation.

Butcher also gave the group a primer on how schools are financed and maintained — whether through a bond, a levy, the general local board budget, generated efficiencies, or a request to the state School Buildings Authority.

Attendees were given a copy of the current Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP), a 10-year plan formed by committee, approved by the state board, and used to develop bond calls. It can be amended at any time. The current CEFP calls for the following actions, including construction of three new schools:

-- Transferring Ansted Elementary students to an upgraded Ansted Middle School building

-- Replacing Fayetteville Elementary to include students from Gatewood Elementary

-- Constructing a new facility for Mount Hope Elementary and some New River Elementary students

-- Renovating and building an addition to Divide Elementary

-- Relocating Ansted Middle students to a consolidated middle school at Fayetteville

-- Closing and replacing Collins Middle

-- Merging Fayetteville High, Meadow Bridge High, and Midland Trail High students at a renovated Midland Trail High

-- Renovating Valley High to separate middle and high school

The total cost of implementing the CEFP is, incidentally, the same cost as implementing all recommended upgrades to schools — $136 million.

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