SBA data drives home Fayette’s facility predicament

By Sarah Plummer Register-Herald Reporter

OAK HILL — The community has heard it all before — Fayette County needs massive capital to renovate schools, enrollment has declined over the past decade and the district’s finances are spread too thin to maintain existing facilities.

On Monday, School Building Authority Director of School Planning and Construction Scott Raines drove those points home through data during a presentation at Oak Hill High School.

Raines said bringing every school in Fayette County up to standard including fire code, ADA regulations and safe school entry access will cost more than $198 million.

The existing facilities plan indicates the schools need only $28 million in upgrades, but it does not list estimates for Gatewood Elementary, Meadow Bridge High School and other schools slated for closure as currently written.

He said his review of every school in the county made him realize the district must first look at what needs to be done to improve curriculum as well as implement standards set down in West Virginia Board of Education Policy 6200.

Among other things, the policy states elementary schools must have separate cafeterias and gymnasiums.

“Previous evaluations were not adequate. They were informal, suggestions from staff and the community,” he explained.

At Gatewood, Raines noted that students ate lunch, had P.E., used a media center and attended special education classes in “a wide spot in the hallway.”

Fayetteville High School students eat lunch on the gym floor because they don’t have a cafeteria.

“People don’t know what they don’t have,” he said.

The county has lost 212 students since 2005, but nearly 2,000 since 1995, he said.

That’s 22 percent of the county’s student population.

The SBA prefers schools to operate around 85 percent capacity. Only four schools in Fayette meet that criteria. Most are between 65 and 70 percent, he said.

He noted that Valley High does not have a certified math teacher; therefore, students can’t take classes needed for college entrance exams.

“What this is doing is spreading the resources out. You have a lot of buildings. It is virtually impossible for the county to have certified math and certified English teachers to teach students the offerings they need to be prepared for college,” he said. “If we are cutting classes and class offerings to students so we can continue to operate more buildings, we are pointing things in the wrong direction.”

Although data approved by the state in the county’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan has fallen under scrutiny in the past, he asked the community to take the data gathered by the School Building Authority (SBA) as fact and use it to move forward.

State Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cindy Daniel said she understands the frustrations many in the community feel over the process, noting that the community has had meeting after meeting, plan after plan.

But finally all state agencies and the local board are on the same page and “committed to making sure the final outcome is something that is best for all the students in Fayette County Schools,” she said “One thing that makes this process different is we are taking a look at what our students need, and maybe that is different than what communities have wanted.”

Fayette County Director of Secondary Education Anna Kincaid-Cline and Director of Elementary Schools Jean Cavalier shared the types of classrooms and school space that would help facilitate creative learning, STEM and STEAM activities, cross-grade and content collaboration and improved learning experiences.

Their suggestions for future consideration include outdoor classroom space like a greenhouse or amphitheater, flexible floor plans, more AP and college course offerings and career technology education beginning in middle school.

The SBA will next meet with the 54-member capital planning committee for the first time on June 9 at New River Elementary.

From there smaller break-out groups will meet, hear more data and begin gathering feedback from the local community.

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