Monday afternoon, interim superintendent Terrence Beam held a forum to address several rumors and gave a presentation concerning the state of the county’s school facilities.
The purpose of the forum was to gain feedback from the community on plans to reconfigure and renovate school facilities.
Beam began by addressing the needs of each school, most of which are more than 30 years of age.
“Our buildings are old and in much need of repair,” he said. “Marlinton Elementary, for example, is in the floodplain, as we all know. The electrical capacity of the school is at its max. All of our buildings look great inside when you walk in, but that doesn’t tell you what’s above the ceilings, below the floors and under the ground, and that’s where all your expense is. That’s where all your problems mostly lie.”
Marlinton Middle School is also at its capacity for electrical work and is in need of air conditioning. Green Bank Elementary-Middle School has issues with old furnaces, the sprinkler system and the sewer system.
“Green Bank, I was up there this week and took a look at a couple of the furnaces,” Beam said. “They’re pretty pitiful. The fire marshal was about ready to shut us down from what I understand. We have one furnace that was cracked, another wasn’t working and some of the parts are so old, you can’t even read serial numbers or anything else to get parts for it.”
While Pocahontas County High School is also showing its age and in need of repair, it is far from capacity when it comes to the number of students it can house. When built, the school was used by more than 700 students. This year, there are 320.
“We have plenty of space there, space is not our problem,” Beam said. “We have other problems there. The one that concerns me the most is security issues. We have three of our buildings that kids go in and out of, and they are in and out all day. You don’t have a secure campus and so anybody can walk through those doors at any time. That’s a scary thought in this day and time.”
Hillsboro Elementary School is probably in the best shape of all the schools, but it is not without its faults. It also needs air conditioning, as well as other upgrades.
With all the issues the schools are facing just facility wise, Beam chose to look for options to improve the buildings and configuration of the schools.
He came up with a three-phase plan which will reconfigure all of the schools. One of the three phases will be submitted to the School Building Authority as a grant project.
“These are only my thoughts – so shoot the messenger,” Beam said. “These are not the board’s ideas. When we first started talking about it, like I said, Marlinton Elementary School is, to me, the most urgent area to fix first because of the condition of the building and the concern about the health of the students and teachers, and so forth.”
In Beam’s plan, MES would close and the students would be moved to MMS, turning the school into a PreK-6 facility. The seventh and eighth grade would be moved to PCHS, making it a 7-12 facility.
“There’s only one logical answer to me and that’s Marlinton Middle School,” Beam said. “It’s out of the flood zone, the building is in good shape, it’s got a nice big campus and plenty of room for expansion. The architect showed me the blueprints of it that actually have designs set up to where wings would actually expand in that school if they ever decide to increase enrollment.”
HES and GBEMS will also become PreK-6 facilities.
Beam said he spoke to superintendents in other counties which use this configuration and while they did have issues at first, the schools are running smoothly.
“There are smaller rural counties that are going to a seven-twelve model instead of a nine-twelve model,” he said. “They do it for two reasons. First of all, they do it for the sports teams. If you have all the sports teams in the same location all the time, then its not the transportation issue that you have. My thought of it is it gives us a chance to get these kids into career and technical education classes in the seventh grade instead of waiting until the ninth grade.
“We have a lot of kids, you know as well as I do, they are not going to go to college,” he continued. “They’re going to do a trade. What’s happening, by the time they get to ninth grade, a lot of boys are already checked out. They’ve already been frustrated with school. They’re not doing well in school. They don’t want to be in school, but if you say, ‘we’re going to be building a building,’ then you pique their interest. My feeling is, why not pique that interest and provide that opportunity at a younger age.”
While the majority of the three phase plan includes using existing buildings and making renovations or additions, Beam said the SBA prefers to build new buildings instead of fixing what is already there.
The SBA is interested in two things – new buildings, less buildings,” he said. “That’s what they look at. That’s the way they feel about it.”
Because the SBA likes new buildings and the county currently does not have a levy, it is in the best interest of the schools to submit a project which focuses on consolidating and closing one building.
Beam reminded everyone that the SBA does not give money free and clear. The county must have at least a 10 percent match for the funding it receives.
“SBA doesn’t just give you a blank check,” he said. “There is a financial responsibility on the counties too, and that depends on the ability of a county to come up with the money and, of course, the amount of money they are allocating at the time.”
In closing, Beam said they had three options – submit a project to the SBA in hopes it is funded, skip the SBA and fund a project through a levy or bond, or do nothing.
“The third option, to me is not really an option, but it’s out there, is to do nothing,” Beam said. “I was talking to [maintenance director Ron Hall] today about what we have in the maintenance budget. He has eighty thousand dollars and he’s already halfway through it. It’s only September. He’s running out of money already. We cannot continue just to try to keep the fingers in the dike because the dike’s going to break one of these days.”
After his presentation, Beam opened the forum to the audience for a question and answer session. The majority of those in attendance said they would not be opposed to a levy if it was for facilities.
Beam said the board will choose a project to submit and will send it to the SBA on October 1.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org