Students of flooded Nicholas schools to use portables

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

Nicholas County school board member said Tuesday night that students who were set to attend three flood-damaged public schools will start the upcoming school year on Aug. 19 with full school days in various other buildings until they can move to portable classrooms.

A.J. Rogers, who’s also executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, said he’s not optimistic that the current Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle buildings will ever reopen following the late June flooding, though he noted the full school board has yet to make a decision on whether to build new schools or repair the existing facilities.

He said the estimated damages total about 100 percent of Richwood Middle’s appraised value, 70 percent of Richwood High’s appraised value and a little over 50 percent of Summersville Middle’s appraised value, though he noted the evaluation of Summersville isn’t yet complete.

Gus Penix, president of board, said the market value of Richwood Middle is about $1.6 million, and the repair cost is estimated at $2.3 million, meaning an over 100 percent damage assessment. He said the market value was $1.9 million for Richwood High, and repairs were estimated at $1.5 million, for about an 80 percent damage assessment, and Summersville Middle, with a market value of $5.3 million and estimated repairs at $2.7 million, did have a 50 percent damage assessment.

Any time a building is more than 50 percent damaged in such a situation, it has to be brought into compliance with national flood insurance policy — something that can significantly raise the cost to reopen buildings. They can be required to be raised above the flood plain and meet other standards.

Rogers said he thought the school system would be able to use part of the flooded schools, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that couldn’t happen. FEMA could fund 75 percent, and perhaps 90 percent, of building new schools for the county.

He said it’s unclear when the portable classrooms will be open to students and where they will be placed. Until those are set up, he said the plan is to put Richwood Middle students in Cherry River Elementary, where some computer labs, the stage of a multipurpose room and perhaps other spaces will be used as classrooms.

He said Richwood High students will all be about a dozen miles away from the school in Craigsville. Most will be at the Nicholas County Career/Technical Center, which is right next to Gauley River Elementary, where the high schoolers also will use four classrooms, and the Craigsville Public Library, which high schoolers may also utilize.

Rogers said vocational education will continue at the career and technical center despite the high schoolers occupying the space for general education. He noted there are hands-on labs there alongside the classrooms.

Sixth- and seventh-grade Summersville Middle students will, pending fire marshal approval, have classes in cabins in Nicholas County Veterans Memorial Park, which he said is right beside Summersville Middle. Eighth graders will attend Nicholas County High, which also is on the same campus.

He said four to six weeks is a “best-case scenario” and “wishful thinking” for the arrival of portable classrooms. He said the portable classrooms for Richwood middle and high schools could be set up on an old hospital site in Richwood.

Rogers said that if the current Richwood middle and high school buildings won’t reopen, the school system will likely build a combined sixth- through 12th-grade school in the area. He noted the middle and high school are almost one school currently — they both share a band room and other spaces on the same campus — and state School Building Authority guidelines require a 15-acre site for schools, so two separate schools would take 30 acres.

“Richwood, it’s straight up on both sides of the river, so it would not be an easy thing to do,” Rogers said of finding a useful 30 acres there.

As for consolidating students from the current Richwood and Summersville Middle areas, he said “I don’t see any support at all for that from any of our board members, and especially me,” noting the long travel distances students would have to deal with and the winter conditions the area faces.

The school system presented details on the post-flood plans at a more than two-hour long meeting Tuesday night at Nicholas County High.
Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.