On November 9, Interim Superintendent of Schools Terrence Beam and board of education president Emery Grimes presented the Pocahontas County Schools’ project to the School Building Authority in Charleston, in hopes of receiving funding to improve the school facilities.
A few weeks later, Beam spoke to The Pocahontas Times about the project and what will happen if it is funded.
“The first part of this project is to get renovations to [Marlinton] Middle School and Green Bank [Elementary-Middle School],” Beam said. “If that project is approved, then they would add at least four classrooms to the middle school because we would be moving the students from Marlinton Elementary and getting the kids out of the floodplain.
“That school is equipped for middle school, so it doesn’t have bathrooms in classrooms like preschool and kindergarten need, so we have to build classrooms,” he continued. “I think there’s also, on that plan, an additional cafeteria being considered for that, or maybe an enlargement of the cafeteria.”
Both MMS and GBEMS will receive renovations and upgrades to the HVAC system, sprinkler system and fire alarm system.
Hillsboro Elementary School will become preschool through sixth grade and Pocahontas County High School will be seventh through 12th.
“We would set the seventh, eighth and ninth graders in one section of the building and tenth, eleventh and twelfth in another section of the building where they did not cross paths very often,” Beam said. “I could see possibly in a vocational course where you may have kids from the middle school helping fill a class or if you have an accelerated student that needs to go to a tenth grade math class instead of ninth grade, I can see that. The general population would be kept separate. They would have separate gyms. They would have separate cafeterias. They would have separate everything.”
The SBA will release its decision on December 14 and from there, Beam and the board office will set the plan in motion.
“We requested approximately seventeen million dollars from the SBA,” Beam said. “They only get fifty-five million dollars a year to pass out to all the counties, so they’re not going to give us all that. We requested it to be given to us over a two-year period, and, of course, we have to have some sort of matching funds.”
Those matching funds would have to come from a levy passed by Pocahontas County voters. The last levy proposed by the board of education was voted down. While that is discouraging, Beam is hopeful the county residents will approve a levy which is solely for renovating the facilities.
“When this last one failed, the comments we heard were ‘well if it hadn’t been going toward athletics and senior citizens and libraries, and all this, if it would just go for buildings, we would support that,’” Beam said. “This would be that – one hundred percent of the money would go toward the facilities.”
Beam said he understands that it is difficult to raise taxes, but if the levy does not pass, the schools will continue to deteriorate, and the students will no longer be safe.
“Our options are – pass a levy to support the SBA project and fix our schools, or if we don’t get the SBA money, run our own levy to raise all this money which isn’t going to happen, or we don’t do anything, which is really not an option,” Beam said. “Our buildings are falling down as we speak.”
The board office and board of education has looked at all the options and collectively, they feel this is the best, and cheapest, option for the students.
“I know there’s going to be apprehension about the seventh and eighth going to the high school, but Pendleton County’s done it, Webster County’s done it, Braxton County’s done it and they’ve done it for a lot of the same reasons we have,” Beam said. “We’ve got to be viable financially. We cannot keep all these building open.”
Right now it’s a big if – if the SBA approves the project and the levy is passed, these plans will be set in motion.
Keeping a positive outlook, Beam said he plans to hit the ground running after the SBA reports on the funded projects December 14.
“We start our public meetings, immediately,” he said. “Right after the first of January, I would start setting up public meetings, and I will be willing to talk to any groups that want me to talk to them – senior citizens groups, Marlinton Woman’s Club, Rotary, Lions Club, anybody that wants to talk to me and ask me questions, I’ll be glad to talk.”
The public meetings will give individuals a chance to see exactly how much their taxes would increase for the levy. Beam said he wants to be as transparent as possible in order so every single citizen of Pocahontas County knows what they are funding and how much they are funding.
“My door’s always open,” he said. “Anybody wants to come see me and ask me questions about it, I have nothing to hide. I’m just trying to get our schools operational and provide the best we have for our kids because it’s time. It is time.”
If the project is funded and a levy is passed, Beam estimated that construction would begin in the summer of 2016, after bids are put out and a construction company is hired.
“I’m sure it’s going to take a year, and I don’t know whether or not they would do both projects at the same time [Marlinton and Green Bank] or if they would do them separate,” Beam said. “I don’t know how they would work. If they would do it separately, [Marlinton] would be the first thing done. I’m going to insist we do this building first.”
Beam will give an update once the SBA has released its plans for funding.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org