After the failure of the 2017 proposed school levy, Pocahontas County Schools Superintendent Terrence Beam knew it was time to pursue other options for the future of Marlinton Elementary School.
As Beam has said in the past, the community spoke loud and clear in the election, stating with a “No” that it preferred Marlinton Elementary School stay within the town limits.
With that in mind, Beam has started to brainstorm with board members and Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton to come up with options to keep the school in town.
“[Board member Joe] Walker and I met with the mayor this morning,” Beam said on Friday, “and we threw out a couple of ideas to him on how we thought we could possibly proceed as a joint venture between the town of Marlinton and the Pocahontas County Board of Education to do everything in our power to work together to keep the school in – as Emery Grimes likes to say – ‘downtown Marlinton, West Virginia.’”
The biggest obstacle will be finding funding to keep the school in town. In the past, the board of education has submitted grant applications to the West Virginia School Building Authority [SBA], but the SBA has stated that it will not fund a project to keep building in a floodplain.
“Nothing has changed as far as what the SBA allows,” Beam said. “So, if the town would decide that they wanted to keep this building in this location, then local funds would have to be raised in some fashion in order to finance it.”
The other option that could open the project up for SBA funding is for the board to purchase land in Marlinton to build a new facility. The SBA does not provide funding to purchase land, but it will consider a new building if it is out of the floodplain.
“The mayor, Joe Walker, Ron Hall and I are planning to go to the SBA later on in February to meet with them and lay out our thoughts and ask them, for instance, how much acreage you have to have for a school this size,” Beam said. “We would ask how strong of a commitment could we get from the SBA that if we went out and purchased land, would we be able to get a building built on it. We don’t want to go out and buy fifteen, twenty acres of property and then not get the money to put a building on it.”
Along with pursuing funding from the SBA, Beam said the collective agrees that it is important to have input from the citizens of Marlinton and Pocahontas County. Without the community, there is no school, and if funding does have to come from the community, it is important they are aware of the options.
“We told the mayor we would want this to be a community-based drive to raise money,” Beam said. “If you get the county commission involved and get the town council involved and get some of these civic groups involved – all these different groups like Rotary and the Lions – and your church groups, and get all of them to say ‘yes,’ we can do something here.
“Let [the committee] get their own contractors and architects to see what it would really cost us,” he continued. “They may find out that the quote they get is more expensive than one we get – or not. You just don’t know. We want it to be a joint effort.”
Working together, Beam and Felton have found common ground in looking for options that are best for the school and the town.
“The mayor’s like me,” Beam said. “He wants to leave a positive imprint when he leaves his position. I want good things when they say, ‘well they did this while he was here.’ I don’t want them to say it was nothing but a disaster. We would like to have a permanent solution to this issue, so twenty years from now we don’t have to come back and say, ‘they should have done something twenty years ago.’ We cannot wait forever. Something’s got to be done because there’s going to come a time when it’s going to be a point of no return.”
Marlinton Elementary School is not the only project on the horizon for the board of education. The Major Improvement Project [MIP] to replace the sewer system at Pocahontas County High School is underway and will be completed by fall 2018.
The MIP was funded by the SBA, and Beam said the board plans to apply for another MIP which will replace the roof at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School. All MIP proposals must be under $1 million, so if the roof is estimated to cost less, other issues at GBEMS will be added to the list.
“We’re moving forward with this idea,” he said. “We’re going to the SBA to try to get a million dollars to work on Green Bank in the next year with replacing the roof on the elementary wing and any other areas that we think we can fit in under a million dollars. We’re doing that at the end of this month. We have to present the project by the first of March.”
The board office is also in the process of moving to its new location at the former Moose Lodge in Buckeye, where renovations will soon be underway.
In the meantime, Beam and the staff at the central office are hard at work finding supplies for the new office.
“Ruth [Bland] and Ron went to the Osteopathic School where they have a bunch of furniture that they are giving away,” Beam said. “I was at the RESA office this week, and they have shelves that are in good condition, and we’re getting those for free to help furnish our board office. We need a lot of shelving. We have a lot of stuff to store. We’re trying to get as many free things as we can get.”
Most of the furniture at the current office will be moved, but if the free items are in better shape, they will replace the furniture that is currently being used.
While it might seem like the move toward a new board office location is going fast, Beam said the board has actually been working on this since C.C. Lester was superintendent in 2014.
The following is a list of properties that have been considered:
• A house on 10th Avenue, Marlinton.
• Dr. Walkup’s former office behind Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.
• The building that housed DHHR and Timber Line Campbelltown Hill.
• The Fultz House on Hamilton Hill.
• Dr. Sharp’s office at the Medical Plaza.
• The former Presbyterian Manse on Ninth Street.
• The Moose Lodge, Buckeye.
• The Annex building at Pocahontas County High School.
• The modular house built by the PCHS carpentry class.
• The former Pocahontas Woods building, Marlinton.
• The office space above City National Bank, Marlinton.
• ARC building, Marlinton.
• Pitzer house on 10th Avenue, Marlinton.
• Sarita Bennett’s former office and the Foreman Law Office building.
Beam explained of the locations considered, the Moose Lodge facility was the best option and required the least amount of renovations while remaining in the board’s price range.
With all the changes getting underway and/or on the horizon, Beam remains positive, although it is difficult to make changes with a diminishing budget.
“We’re getting some things done,” Beam said, “but there’s just a lot of things – more things that need done than I’m satisfied with,” he said. “Trying to do it with zero money is hard to do without laying people off. Trying to keep all the people employed, trying to keep all the buildings running and trying to add things with no money – it’s not easy.”