Fayette County clears first SBA hurdle

By Alex Wiederspiel in News
ROANOKE, W.Va. — The goal of overhauling Fayette County’s school infrastructure cleared another hurdle Monday morning.

The School Building Authority voted unanimously during Monday’s quarterly meeting at Stonewall Resort in Lewis County to put the proposed amendment to Fayette County’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan on their agenda for the November 15 grant submission presentations.

“There are going to be a lot of good projects submitted,” Fayette County Superintendent of Schools Terry George said. “Ours will be a good project and a worthy project, but we still have to get the Authority members to approve the project because it’s a large project.”

George said Fayette County will ask the SBA for just north of $20 million in the first of several funding cycles in a long-term plan to overhaul the county’s school facilities.

“This addresses all of the facility curriculum issues in Fayette County,” George said. “I think it’s a bold move for the county. It’s probably a good blueprint for other counties in this state to follow because the School Building Authority looked at not just short term, but looked at long term. What could be accomplished to significantly impact the students in that county?”

Fayette County will contribute $17 million to the project, which is expected to be the first in a series of funding cycles to address all of Fayette County’s problems with school facilities.

Last year, the School Building Authority rejected Fayette County’s comprehensive amendment during the grant submission process. Even though George said the SBA had a lot of input on the process this year, he still expects SBA board members to have questions about the project.

“I think they are still going to have some questions about the transportation, and I think we addressed several of those today,” George said. “I think they’ll have some questions about, obviously, the schools that we’re going to be taking schools into other counties.”

The new plan will, eventually, take some students from Meadow Bridge High School and give them the option to attend schools in Greenbrier County. Other students from high schools that could potentially close in a future funding cyle will have the option to attend schools in Raleigh or Kanawha County.

“We can’t give an accurate number on those students right now because we are going to offer waivers to those students to stay in Fayette County,” George said. “I think the majority of the students are going to sign, and their parents are going to want their students to stay in Fayette County. Those that do not, we will transport to the nearest available school in either Kanawha, Raleigh, or Greenbrier.”

That part of the plan drew criticism from Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender, a member of the Capital Committee for these projects, over concerns that it would change Fayette County’s numbers under the School Aid Formula.

Students who choose to remain in Fayette County from Meadow Bridge would likely still be dealing with extraordinary travel times to and from school, a part of the plan that drew heat from SBA board members last year.

The first funding cycle, if approved, would focus on the Oak Hill school complex–building an elementary school and middle school. It would also call for renovations to some existing buildings that will remain in use under the amendment.

Eventually, in a period of seven to ten years, the amendment would call for a reduction in high schools from five to two.

Midland Trail would expand to include middle school students. Students who choose to stay in Fayette County from Valley High School would join a consolidated school that includes former Fayetteville High School students and Oak Hill High School students.

Fayette County is expected to make their proposal to the School Building Authority at the November 15 grant submission meeting.