Two new Oak Hill schools the first phase of ‘aggressive’ facilities plan

By Sarah Plummer Register-Herald Reporter

OAK HILL — Fayette County will begin its “aggressive” facilities overhaul by seeking a estimated $22.6 million from the School Building Authority this winter to construction a new PreK-2 and new Collins Middle schools at the Oak Hill High complex.

Fayette County would provide about a $17 million match, which includes $6 million in cash and lease-purchase agreements.

Scott Raines, Director of School Planning and Construction for the School Building Authority (SBA), presented a prioritized project list, cost estimates and proposed funding sources to the 54-member capital planning committee Monday.
His timeline estimates the entire plan, including curriculum-based upgrades and existing schools to be implemented by 2030, but with the majority of the major projects under way by 2020.

“This is rather aggressive. The timelines are pretty tight, but from the SBA staff standpoint, we feel very comfortable with,” Raines said. “If (Fayette Superintendent) Terry (George) brought a project to us in October to fund both these schools, we would feel comfortable.”

He said seeking money for a multi-year project was problematic during the last funding cycle, but this time Fayette would be looking for a two-year commitment instead of three.

Fayette County Schools is expected to submit a funding application by Oct. 1 that includes the $18.3 million new PreK-2 and a $21.3 million Collins Middle School. Raines said the staff would anticipate the package being funded over two years.

Allocations are made in December.

Also during the next three years, he anticipates reconfiguring New River Elementary to house grades 3-5, which won’t require state funding.

This summer, Fayette County received a MIP Grant (for projects less than $1 million) from the SBA to add classrooms to Midland Trail High and move Ansted Middle students to the Hico campus.

He anticipates Fayette seeking other $1 million MIP Grants in June 2017 and June 2018 to renovate Oak Hill High and reconfigure Fayetteville High School into a PreK-8 school.

Also within this phase one, three-year period, Raines said students in Valley and Meadow Bridge high schools are slated to be redistricted to Kanawha and Greenbrier/Summers counties, respectively.

He then foresees Fayette pursuing another large capital improvement allocation in December 2019 to construct a new PreK-8 in Meadow Bridge and a new Ansted/Divide Elementary. Each of those projects would require a $5 million local match. Total cost of the Meadow Bridge School is $12 million. The Ansted/Divide would cost around $14.3 million.

“In order to make all of this work, we have to take big strides over the next three years and begin to realize the savings,” Raines said.

“Ultimately it is up to our authority members (11 voting members) to fund these projects, but I think if our staff feels comfortable recommending it, they will feel comfortable with it as well,” he explained.

Matt Wender, representing Oak Hill area schools, asked if, as the projects move forward, the district would generate enough internal savings to have a $5 million cash match for the Meadow Bridge and Ansted/Divide area schools.

George said the district would be able to generate that much, and savings would come from taking schools offline — cutting down on staffing, savings from utilities, less insurance costs, etc.

The school board already has $6 million cash on hand for the initial application.

Carolyn Arrit, representing Meadow Bridge area schools, asked if the $6 million in on-hand cash was meant to be used for past maintenance.

George told her no, it came from a budget surplus.

Arritt also asked how much state aid the county receives per student, and how much money the county would lose with students attending schools in other counties.

George said the complex formula is set by the state, and he did not know how much the county receives per student or how many students would be redistricted under the plan.

For the same reason, he could not answer Arritt’s next question about the cost of transporting students out of county.

Arritt also asked how much the county saves by building a new PreK-8 instead of a new PreK-12.

Raines told her the difference was about $16 million.

In reference to students attending schools outside Fayette County, Meadow Bridge representative Andrea Wickline said they are “giving away our most valuable resources.

She said kids are not going to want to come back to Fayette County after being sent away.

“Just because kids are going across a county line to a school next door does not mean they aren’t going to come back here,” said Raines. “Kids won’t come back to this state as a whole if we don’t make improvements to the state.”
Dr. William White, a member of both the State Board of Education and the School Building Authority, has attended all capital planning meetings.

“It is painful for me when communities feel like they are losing their schools, but we want to make sure all the kids in Fayette County are getting quality education. I’m comfortable that the direction we are going is to provide quality education for the kids in our county,” White said.

He charged the group, even if some don’t believe in the plan, to deal in facts, not rumors or lies.

“I cannot say everyone on the (authority) board will support the plan, but I can say the people on the board really believe in and trust our staff,” he added.

“This is about providing the kids the curriculum they need — what it takes to offer the kids what they deserve and what other kids across the state are getting. We can talk about the domino effect of that, cost savings and new facilities, but the real goal is offering curriculum,” Raines said.

Jennifer Campbell, representative from Hico area schools, asked when her community could expect to see movement on the addition at Midland Trail.

Raines said the project would go out for bid next spring and construction will begin 9 to 12 months after the bid process.

The addition was delayed because the SBA grant contract was written as if the local school district was not under state control, and it had to be vetted by the Department of Education’s legal team.

Raines noted that the proposed timeline puts more than $70 million into Fayette County Schools and “addresses $216 million worth of need,” the cost of bringing every school in the county up to par.

It also calls for the construction of four new schools without buying land, he said.

The State School Board will consider approving Fayette County’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan amendment at its Sept. 7 board meeting.

Superintendents present their projects to the SBA in November, which then meets to allocate funds in December.

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