“That dollar figure looms,” for members of the Fayette facility committee

By Sarah Plummer Register-Herald Reporter

OAK HILL — Fayette County principals, teachers, parents and community members who comprise the capital planning committee found it hard Tuesday not to not to think about money.

School Building Authority Executive Director David Sneed tried to keep the group of around 26 of the 54-member committee focused on the vision they have for the district in terms of schools size, grade configurations and bus times.

All the while he stressed, they must create a plan based on the district’s income and expenditures. A plan that is sustainable.

“Fayette spends a lot of money on maintenance. You are seventh in the state in cost of maintenance, but your buildings are not in good shape. They have reached a tipping point. You can’t repair them because you are constantly replacing things that should have been replaced 10 years ago. You spend a lot of money but you are not getting anywhere,” he said.

The group considered the ideal size they’d like to see the county’s schools. The data collected across the county indicated the community would like to see no more than 400 in an elementary, 600 in middle schools and 700 in high schools.

Superintendent Terry George said the community indicated they would be willing to see bigger schools if students received a better education.

Randall Patterson said many districts are lowering the number of students in high schools to 700 so students can receive a high quality education more efficiently.

Sneed said the ideal size for West Virginia has been around 900.

“You are never going to have mega-sized schools in West Virginia. Our bigger schools are smaller to everyone else’s. We just don’t have big schools in West Virginia,” he said.

“We are just spinning our wheels,” said Nick Mooney. “It is not what we want but what we can afford to do.”

Fayette Institute of Technology Principal Barry Crist asked for a ballpark figure on how large a project the county might consider submitting to the state to help guide their decisions.

“I don’t like to get to the car dealership and find out I don’t have the kind of money I need. We all want great things, but that dollar figure looms over everything,” he said.

“Don’t worry about the money right now,” Sneed again reiterated.

George said the only firm figure the county has is a $6 million cash match toward a project. If several schools are taken offline, the county will have more money to put toward a lease-purchase agreement. If Collins students are moved out of portables, that will free up money used to lease those units.

Sneed said the authority will have around $52 million this funding cycle, $23 million of which was allocated to Raleigh County School for their multi-year project last winter. The remaining funds must be shared across the state and the applications will be competitive, he said.

Sneed said several school buildings in the county will need to be taken offline eventually, whether they are consolidated or a new school is constructed.

The School Building Authority evaluated each school building in the county based on 21 markers such as school age, operating systems, economies of scale, energy efficiency, etc. Schools were given a score between 1 and 5 in each category and then all scores tabulated to show which schools need to be considered for consolidation or replacement first.

School scores ranged between 36 and 100, with New River Elementary receiving the highest score.

The five lowest scoring schools are Meadow Bridge High (36), Mount Hope Elementary (39), Gatewood Elementary (41), Ansted Elementary (41) and Ansted Middle (44).

Collins was not included on the list because the school building has already been taken offline because the students are relocated.

The group plans to meet again no later than Aug. 2. If possible, those in attendance said they would like to sit down with more specific data at an earlier date.

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