Kanawha superintendent: Hoover will get a new facility

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

Before a crowd of more than 600 people crammed into the Elkview Middle School auditorium, with every seat full and people standing in the entryways and in aisles, Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring announced Wednesday evening that the Herbert Hoover High School building won’t ever reopen, but that the area will get a new school.

“We cannot reopen Herbert Hoover, we can’t, and I know that’s tough on the community, but what’s going to come out of it is a brand new Herbert Hoover High School that will be in the Herbert Hoover area,” Duerring said, drawing applause from the crowd, whose cars filled the Elkview Middle parking lot and lined Elk River Road in front of the school.

“We can now look at making it a school of the future, and it will be the envy of everybody else,” he said.

Hoover Principal Mike Kelley did say that the current plan is to fix the athletic facilities at the current Hoover site to continue to accommodate sports there, and officials said the fixed athletic facilities could later be donated to the community.

Kelley said his dad was hired at Hoover in 1970, the year he was born, so the school has literally been part of his entire life. He said a school isn’t bricks and mortar, but wherever people are to support the students.

Hoover opened in 1963. The building suffered damage equaling 70 percent of its appraised value in the late-June flooding, which put 6 to 7 feet of water in the building.

Duerring’s announcement Wednesday that there will be a new Hoover came despite the fact that there was no prior Kanawha school board public discussion or decision on that intention. Wednesday’s meeting was an official school board public meeting, and the superintendent made the announcement in front of all five board members at the start of the meeting.

When asked how he knew that the board wished to build a new Hoover, he said future decisions about Hoover will eventually come to the board. He said the school can’t be rebuilt in a flood zone.

When the Gazette-Mail pressed further on how he knew the board didn’t want to consolidate students into an existing high school rather than build a new Hoover, Duerring said “I’m done” and walked away.

“They’ve had a tragic flood and it’s best to just build a new school for them,” board member Ryan White said when asked about why he wants a new Hoover built.

He said the board didn’t meet to discuss the intention to build a new Hoover, he personally didn’t talk to a majority of other board members outside of a public meeting, and he and other board members got a personal call from Duerring about the plan.

Ric Cavender, the board’s newest member who took office July 1, said he didn’t personally convey to Duerring that he wanted a new Hoover, but said he supports the new construction. He said he’s inspired by how quickly and diligently Duerring and his staff created a plan that gives people hope.

“I got to watch faces,” Cavender said. “I got to sit there and watch everyone’s faces and it was inspiring to me to actually see hope on their face, getting out of this dark tunnel they’ve been in and seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

Duerring said the school will take two to three years to build, including steps like land acquisition and design.

Charles Wilson, Kanawha’s executive director of facilities planning, estimated the school will cost roughly $45 million to $50 million, including land acquisition and other steps. Officials said at least 75 percent will be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and perhaps 90 percent will be, but how FEMA would fund the extra 15 percent and the rest of the possible funding sources were unclear Wednesday.

Hoover students will temporarily attend classes in the Elkview Middle building in the upcoming school year — which starts Aug. 8 for the majority of Kanawha public schools — until they can move into portable classrooms on Elkview’s football field. Wilson said delivering roughly 60 portables to Hoover will take about 90 to 100 days, a statement that stirred murmurs in the crowd.

Middle-schoolers will attend in the morning, and high-schoolers in the afternoon.

Kelley said Elkview Middle’s teams will be practicing at many different areas, and he hopes Hoover athletes will be able to practice basketball and volleyball at Elkview Middle, though work still is being done on the gym.

Wilson also officially announced that the school system will be placing six to eight portables in front of Bridge Elementary to house Clendenin Elementary students. Kanawha school officials said it’s still unclear whether Clendenin Elementary will reopen at all following the flooding, and Duerring said he’s still awaiting a FEMA report on that school.

Wilson said portable delivery to Bridge is expected to take about 30 to 40 days, and Jane Roberts, the school system’s assistant superintendent over elementary schools, said she expects students from both schools will share the Bridge facility for about a month.

Duerring said that because Elkview students will be attending school in the morning, buses will transport students there to a free after-school program at the Coonskin Park clubhouse. Jon Duffy, another Kanawha schools official, also said free mental and emotional counseling will be available for students and school staff at all flood-impacted schools will be available starting 10 a.m. Monday at Elkview Middle, and may continue based on demand.
Duerring also said families shouldn’t worry about replacing school-issued tablet computers that were damaged in the flood.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1254, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.