It’s always better to be proactive than reactive and that is why Pocahontas County Schools superintendent Terrence Beam has developed an emergency relocation plan for students in case Marlinton Elementary School suffers substantial damage.
“I foresee three or four things that could happen that would cause this to go into effect,” he said. “Several things could happen – water in the building, roof damage or the fire marshal says, ‘you’ve had enough time to fix these things and you haven’t fixed them.’ Now, if any of those three things occur, then we have to be prepared to immediately relocate our students to another location.”
In January, the state fire marshal sent Beam and the Pocahontas County Board of Education a letter stating that they “shall” replace the sprinkler and alarm system at MES, implying that it is no longer a suggestion, it is a requirement.
Along with the sprinkler and alarm system issue, Beam stated it is possible for the school to suffer weather damage, including a wind storm or heavy snow causing the roof to sink in or come off the building.
Since there is no way to foresee when or if something will happen to the school, Beam said he and the board office staff are putting together the plan in order to get the students to safety as soon as possible when an emergency strikes.
“What my plan is, in the event that we have to relocate our students from Marlinton Elementary School, is to relocate them to the middle school, along with the Hillsboro students,” Beam said. “That would create a number of approximately three hundred, forty kids.”
While the students will be in one building, the MES classes and HES classes will remain as they are in their individual schools.
Beam said that this plan will keep all elementary students, grades kindergarten to fifth, in one building. It will be difficult, but he said it is possible to put temporary classrooms in the gymnasium and on the stage at MMS if needed.
“You could put dividers up in that gym and you could probably put six or eight classrooms up there, as far as putting chairs on the floors and dividers up,” he said. “Is that ideal? No, but neither is an emergency. They also have a stage up there that we would be able to put a class on. So all of our elementary kids, K through five, would be under one roof – the Hillsboro and Marlinton students.”
Beam said all the school staff would move as well, with the exception of custodians, who are more familiar with their own schools.
Along with moving the elementary students to MMS, the middle school students would move to Hillsboro Elementary School, which is large enough to fit the Marlinton sixth through eighth grade.
Above all, Beam said the number one priority is getting students in a safe place. If an emergency occurs which requires the students to be moved immediately, the desks and classroom essentials will be moved once everyone is to their new location.
“If we had to do this in a twenty-four hour, forty-eight hour period, we wouldn’t be moving desks and all of that stuff at the very beginning,” he said. “We would just simply be relocating students and staff. The big kids will have to sit in little chairs and the little kids will have to sit in big chairs for a few days until we could get those things rectified.”
Beam added that if the cause of the relocation is easy to repair, and the move would be for only a few weeks, the desks would stay put and the students and staff would try to make do with what they could take with them.
“They would have to have their textbooks, but we wouldn’t be making a full-blown move,” he said. “But, if it is something like a caved in roof from a heavy wet snow or the absence of a roof because of a heavy wind storm which is going to be long-term, then you go through those processes.”
While Beam understands it is not a perfect plan, he said it is important to have something in place so that they aren’t caught off guard and students aren’t put in harm’s way.
“It’s on us if we don’t plan on this move,” he said. “We can’t wait for something to happen and say, ‘okay now what are we going to do?’ We need to already have something in the process and that’s what we’re working on now.”
Along with the plan for the central and southern parts of the county, Beam said he is working on a plan for Green Bank Elementary-Middle School. While the condition of the school is not as bad as MES, it does have issues with its sprinkler system and roof.
“Green Bank’s roof is not in the best condition either,” he said. “So we’re assuming that the emergency situation is going to happen at Marlinton Elementary School. We’re not guaranteed anything. It could very easily be Green Bank School. The problem we have at the Green Bank area is we don’t have as many choices as far as buildings to pick from to relocate students to. All we have is the high school.”
The problem with moving GBEMS to Pocahontas County High School is finding a place to put all the classes and keep them separate from the high school students. GBEMS has approximately 250 students and Beam is uncertain if they can be comfortably placed at PCHS.
“I haven’t had this conversation with [principal] Joe Riley as to how many students they could actually house,” Beam said. “I don’t think we can house that many at one time with the buildings in the condition they’re in right now. If you had six months to do that, there might be a way of doing it. You’d have some crowded classrooms.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he added.
Because it is so labor intensive to move an entire school to a new location, Beam said the plan would be set in motion in a long-term situation and only for an emergency. For instance, if the students needed to be moved in April, they would finish the school year in the new location.
“I don’t want to make this move until I have to make this move,” he said. “I don’t want to just make this move because we planned it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m looking at it as an emergency relocation plan. If it was a one-week relocation, we would move the bodies and do the best with what we have.”
Beam said he thinks the board of education likes the plan and understands that, although it is not perfect, it is safe.
“They thought that as far as an emergency plan, they like the idea,” he said. “I felt it was important to get out to the community that we are thinking about a backup plan in case our building fails. That’s the key thing there is letting them know that we are working on this, that we don’t think our problems disappear just because the levy failed in November. The problems are still there and getting worse every day, so we have to have a plan. Our long-term plan that we come up with, we’ve got to decide as a school board how we fund any repairs to our buildings.”
While it’s a tough decision to find safe places to house students in case of an emergency, it’s even harder to decide the future of a school as a whole.
With the fire marshal’s suggestion in mind and the loss of the proposed school levy, Beam said he doesn’t see how the board can possibly afford to keep MES open much longer.
“I’m speaking for me,” he said. “I’m not speaking for the board because they’ve had some back and forth discussion, but nothing concrete and nothing definite, but my opinion is, I don’t see how we can keep that school open. Because the cost to fix it up is so severe and the citizens have spoken very loudly that they are not willing to put the money into the schools at this point and so we just can’t expect ten or twelve million dollars to fall out of the sky to fix that building.”
Beam said he thinks it will be beneficial to try to move MES to the MMS location, like the board planned to do if the levy passed.
If the school is moved, the cost of maintaining MES will no longer be an issue. Beam said the board is also looking for a new location for the board office, which would save the board money on heating a leaking building.
“We know that the floodplain situation is not going to change and the building [MES] has got so many expensive issues,” he said. “It’s not only that. The flood insurance is just unbelievable. Thirty-two thousand dollars in flood insurance for this board office and MES. We’re trying to find a way to get out of this office. There’s no good places for that either.
“But our priority is getting the kids in a safer location.”