The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 25, 2009

$49 million school bond on Fayette ballot Oct. 24

Four high schools would be consolidated into one

By Steve Keenan

FAYETTEVILLE — A $49 million school bond will be decided by Fayette County voters on Saturday, Oct. 24.

The county commission voted Friday to place the issue on a special election ballot. Earlier in the week, the county school board voted 3-2 to put the bond call before voters. Board members Leon Ivey, Leon Newman and James Workman cast ballots in favor of the bond call, while David Arritt and Steve Bush voted against it.

If approved, the bond would combine with a state School Building Authority grant of $21.9 million, which was awarded in April contingent on bond passage. The total cost of all projects would be slightly more than $70 million.

An additional annual tax burden to county taxpayers would be as follows: Class I property — 12.02 cents per $100 of valuation; Class II — 24.04 cents per $100; and Class III and Class IV — both 48.08 cents per $100.

The bonds must be paid off in 25 1/2 years or less, with the annual interest rate not to exceed 7 percent.

Included in the list of undertakings is a new high school that would combine the student bodies of four high schools — Fayetteville, Midland Trail, Mount Hope and Oak Hill — in a grades 9-12 facility. The acquisition and preparation of the site would account for more than $53 million of the total project cost and would be located on a portion of the Whitlock Farm situated on W.Va. 16 between Wolf Creek and Crooked Run roads.

Schools Superintendent Chris Perkins says an agreement with the property owners has been reached, although he wouldn’t reveal a potential purchase price. With U.S. 19 as a common access route, the site is 3.5 miles from both Oak Hill and Fayetteville high schools, 9.8 miles from Midland Trail and 10.4 miles from Mount Hope.

In addition to the new high school, eight other improvement projects would be included in the construction phase if voters give their go-ahead this fall. Here is a brief synopsis:

- Fayetteville PK-8: Renovations to the existing Fayetteville High building to house about 715 students from Fayetteville and Gatewood elementaries, as well as grades 7-8 from FHS, cost $3.25 million.

- Midland Trail 5-8 Middle School: Renovations and upgrades to the current Midland Trail High building to accommodate about 340 students from Ansted and Nuttall middles, $1.1 million.

- Mount Hope PK-4: Renovations to the existing Mount Hope High facility for the purpose of housing about 260 students from Mount Hope Elementary, $1 million.

- Oak Hill Area 5-8 Middle School: Students from Collins Middle, as well as grades 5-8 students from Mount Hope, would combine in a renovated Oak Hill High site, $1.25 million.

- Meadow Bridge Elementary PK-6: Renovations to the current Meadow Bridge Elementary to house about 215 students, $1.75 million.

- Meadow Bridge 7-12 High School: Renovations at the current site to serve about 260 students, $3.75 million.

- Valley Elementary PK-5 School: Renovations and additions at the current VES building to serve about 370 students, $1.25 million.

- Valley 6-12 High School: Renovations at the current high school, serving about 540 students, as well as a football/track facility to be built at one of several possible locations, $3.75 million.

“This is about the entire county and not one school,” Perkins said.

Current school buildings to be closed entirely would be Ansted, Nuttall and Collins middle schools, and Gatewood, Fayetteville and Mount Hope elementary schools.

Perkins said approval of the bond would allow the school system to eliminate many aging buildings and offer better opportunities for students in the future. The average age of the county’s 21 school buildings is 54 years. Four of the six buildings targeted for complete closure do not meet ADA requirements.

“I understand and respect the need for community schools,” he said. “When you look at those six schools we would be closing, there’s an average age of 70 years and, as superintendent, that’s something I feel I have a responsibility to address.

“As an educational community, how could we not embrace a proposal that would move our school system to the forefront in becoming an educational leader, particularly when research clearly shows that a sound public educational system is the most important investment a community can make in its future?”

In May 2001, Fayette voters resoundingly defeated a $39 million bond that would have helped whittle the number of schools in the county from 27 to 16, with high schools being pared from a then-seven (Gauley Bridge has since closed) to three.

— E-mail: skeenan@register-herald.com