Meadow Bridge: A small but mighty community

By Sarah Plummer REGISTER-HERALD REPORTER Register Herald

Beginning in the 1970s, and especially in the past 15 years, the community of Meadow Bridge has successfully fought the consolidation of Meadow Bridge High School.

The first attempts to close Meadow Bridge High and force its merger with Midland Trail High occurred in the early 1970s, recalled Randall Patterson. At that time, a new facility was to be built between the two schools, but the location could not be decided upon.

In 2001, Harry Hoffer became county superintendent and proposed closing a dozen schools, including Meadow Bridge. Hoffer lasted only six months in office.

The community has been accused of “holding the county hostage” because funding streams hinged upon the school’s merger have not come to fruition.

Key to the community’s success is an active grassroots effort that includes petitioning legislators and state-level education officials, filing lawsuits to prevent or impede closure, and fostering a separatist or minority identity.

At the heart of the town’s activism is the group Meadow Bridge Citizens for Community Schools.

In a March 2 interview, State Board of Education President Gayle Manchin said Meadow Bridge is at a “disadvantage in their challenge,” but they are experts in “community mobilizing, standing together and supporting their children.”

“We have come together and worked together for this one goal,” said Patterson. “We have convinced different people in leadership roles, and many county citizens don’t believe Meadow Bridge has to be closed.”

Those who are pushing hard for the bond don’t believe there can be a future for Collins Middle without a bond, said Patterson, but he believes there are alternatives.

The community tirelessly petitions their elected officials. Twice Meadow Bridge High anticipated receiving $100,000 in Educational Program Allowance, often referred to as isolated school funds. Both times the funding was vetoed and then restored after calls and letters sent to legislators, the governor and the state board.

Their voices were heard so strongly that former State Superintendent James Phares, on March 24, 2014, ordered $50,000 of the local district’s 2015 budget go to Meadow Bridge High to make up for the shortage in state appropriations.

With the most recent $100,000 appropriated, residents say Meadow Bridge is deemed an isolated and necessary school. However, there is no application process for these funds, no definition of how isolated schools are chosen, and no assurance this status prevents merger.

Meadow Bridge Citizens for Community Schools have arguably been most effective through legal action and the threat of lawsuits.

Most recently, the community’s attorney, Barry Bruce, stated he plans to take legal action unless Fayette Superintendent Dr. Serena Starcher allows an independent structural review. ZMM Architects & Engineers deemed the second floor of the school unsuitable for “occupation” or “storage” in February.

Patterson said action can be expected in the next week or two.

Impending legal action does not come as a shock. Carolyn Arritt threatened legal action if Meadow Bridge High School were part of consolidation plans during the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan review process last fall.

A lawsuit filed in 2002 by the community group, including Carolyn Arritt as a named plaintiff, successfully ousted two members of the local board and paved the way for David Arritt to be appointed to a vacancy March 13, 2002.

According to meeting minutes, the Fayette County Board of Education voted to close both high and elementary schools in Meadow Bridge and Fayetteville on Jan. 14, 2002.

One month later, Judge John W. Hatcher Jr. ruled board members Lawrence Boley and Leon Newman were ineligible to serve on the board of education because they were already serving on public service district boards in their home communities.

Three remaining board members, constituting a quorum, negotiated Hoffer’s resignation during a Feb. 28 meeting.

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While the community is small in number, their organization and tirelessness give them voice and presence.

Meadow Bridge residents debated if their community was adequately represented on the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan review committee, which was based on population.

Meadow Bridge had four on the 55-member committee. While that seems disparate, those members attended regularly when overall attendance was often half or less than half.

With four Meadow Bridge members in attendance at the final review committee meeting, their votes were significant in reference to overall attendance. Both proposed amendments proposed Meadow Bridge consolidation, and both were voted down. One plan was defeated 11-9.

Without an amendment agreed upon, the existing facilities plan, which also calls for the high school to close, was left unchanged.

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With 250 in attendance at a May 7 community meeting, the support for Meadow Bridge High School is apparent. Meadow Bridge is not only willing to fight for their school to remain open, they have put significant money and volunteer hours into caring for the buildings and grounds.

Projects the community has done for the school include replacing ceiling and floor tiles, refurbishing hardwood floor, installing the school sign, installing the baseball scoreboard, installing new shingles over portions of the campus, creating a track, and revamping the sports fields.

The community group has also offered to raise funds to make the repairs needed to reopen the school’s second floor.

It’s clear why the community rallies around the school. On Friday nights, hundreds attend football games, and in autumn the sun setting over the mountain community while the Wildcats play ball is beautiful.

“The people in the community of Meadow Bridge, with the Lord’s help, won’t give up,” Joe Rozell said during a May 18 phone interview. “We are not going to sacrifice our kids. For years and years members of our community have done what we needed to help keep our students here.”

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer