SBA probes George’s plan; considers options for Meadow Bridge

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CHARLESTON — Fayette County Superintendent Terry George answered questions about building conditions, bus rides, community involvement and funding for more than an hour before the School Building Authority Tuesday.

Despite Midland Trail, Fayetteville and Oak Hill high schools as well as several elementary schools slated for closure under the plan, authority members’ questions centered only around consolidation concerns for the Meadow Bridge community.

The plan would build a consolidated school in Oak Hill and create K-8 community schools. The Valley district schools would remain unchanged.

During his presentation, George showed pictures of cracked exterior brick at Meadow Bridge and Collins Middle as well as the steel beams inside the condemned Collins gym.

To fund the $56.5 million, 1,550-students consolidated high school, he anticipates the county will provide $6 million in cash funds and $11 million in a lease-purchase agreement. The county seeks $39.5 million from the School Building Authority (SBA) over three years.

That seems like a lot of money, said George, but the plan “corrects a tremendous number of facility issues in Fayette County by building one facility.”

Discussing bus rides for Meadow Bridge students, George said there are 96 students in grades 9-12 at Meadow Bridge High, and a majority of juniors and seniors already travel to Oak Hill to attend the Fayette Institute of Technology.

Responding to board questions, George said the longest bus ride for those students would be 80 minutes.

Board member Tom Lange asked how George came up with that travel time.

The transportation department took a bus out and ran the routes, said George.

Lange asked if George knows Mistie Richmond. She has said that a trip down Backus Mountain Road in a car takes 75 minutes, Lange said.

Fayette Assistant Superintendent and Transportation Director Gary Hough explained that the Backus Mountain Road route will be split between two buses, one starting at the top and traveling over the back and through Prince and the other will pick up students heading toward Meadow Bridge Road.

If the current route remained the same, her times would be more accurate, said Hough.

Lange asked if the times were conservative numbers.

The team drove the proposed routes maintaining speeds 5 or 10 miles per hour below speed limits, Hough said.

Lange asked, if the second floor of Meadow Bridge is condemned, why would the county continue to allow Summers County students to attend there?

“If we are concerned with the health and safety and well-being of students, why would you keep them there?” Lange asked.

Board member Steve Burton then asked what it would cost to add classrooms onto Meadow Bridge Elementary to house the high school students.

George said it would need about seven extra classrooms, and the board asked SBA staff member Scott Raines what it would cost.

Raines said he cannot estimate the cost immediately because some classrooms, like labs, cost much more than other classrooms.

Lange said about 50 students, K-12, attend from Summers County.

“Why would we add classrooms for Summers students? It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Lange said he wants to see the SBA staff work with Fayette County and help develop a better plan or ascertain if George’s plan is best.

“I’m confident in our staff putting a plan together to benefit the entire community. There is one community down there that feels excluded. There are other options and they haven’t all been explored. It’s bee rushed,” Lange said.

Several members mentioned the county’s failed bond attempt in June, which would have consolidated three schools at the existing Midland Trail High.

George said his plan allows the county to be sustainable for the next 25 years and to get the county out from under state control.

“I’m pleading for the students of Fayette County, not for the parents who have been reluctant to pass a bond. It’s for the students,” said George.

Attending the meeting by phone, SBA member Tom Campbell said he doesn’t believe the county has community support.

George said the SBA received a packet of information with letters of support from nearly every elected official in the county, many residents and many organizations.

“I recognize we have people in the Meadow Bridge area who disagree,” said George. “I respect them fighting for their school, but I have to do what’s best for all the students of Fayette County, not isolated pockets.”

Board member Robert Holroyd read a statement Attorney Sam Petsonk made to news media Monday. Petsonk represented the Fayette County Commission and county parents in a lawsuit demanding the SBA reconsider Fayette’s plan, which they voted to do Monday.

In his statement, he said not funding Fayette’s approved plan would be a violation of the constitutional criteria for funding plans based on greatest need.

“You can’t threaten this crowd,” said Holroyd.

George told the board the lawsuit was not filed by him, the school district nor the school board. It was filed by private citizens.

Holroyd, who voted for the amendment in September, said regardless of where the suit came from, “the way to change my vote is to threaten things in court.”

“I’m not here to threaten you. I’m here to request some assistance,” said George. “I’d ask that you separate that (news) article from our presentation. That articles does not represent me and does not represent the school system.”

In December, the SBA will decide which districts will receive a portion of the $54 million of available funding. The authority has had more than $150 million in funding requests this cycle.

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