TENNERTON – Upshur County Board of Education members learned about plans for a possible new Buckhannon-Upshur High School at their most recent meeting last week.
At the BOE’s Tuesday, Aug. 24 meeting in Buckhannon-Upshur High School Auditorium, Tim Derico, Upshur County Schools Facilities Director, said the folks on the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan Committee — which spearheaded the effort to update the school system’s plan for current and future buildings — spent many hours and accomplished a lot in that time.
So, what is a CEFP, anyway?
First things first: the West Virginia Department of Education requires every county school district to develop a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan every 10 years based on the condition of current facilities and changing educational needs.
Derico introduced CEFP Committee Chair Vanessa Perkins and invited her to give a summary of the CEFP.
Perkins said she was asking that folks look beyond the COVID pandemic and focus on the children in Upshur County’s future.
“Our children’s future is paved with bright and solid opportunities,” Perkins said. “For the last two years, the BOE has been working on a vision for this county. They have enlisted their staff, families, businesses and the great citizens of Upshur County to help this vision become a reality. Dr. Stankus and her staff are the most committed people I know to getting this right. She firmly believes that our students deserve better, and she is committed … to always lobby for funding and improvement for the kids. She wants what is best for all children, and we admire her for that.”
Perkins said the vision is huge and solely focuses on the children of Upshur County’s future, and the group has sponsored several community forums where it gathered concerns and must-haves from business leaders, organizations and community stakeholders.
“We have taken your vision and have heard you loud and clear and we are ready to move forward,” Perkins said. “You want a new school.”
Perkins explained what that new school would look like and how the vision could happen.
“The board of education is required to submit a CEFP to the state and it is essential and plays an important role in how education in the county will look in the future for our students and the community,” she said. “This plan is most important in obtaining the funding that is needed to build a new school and renovate the ones that we have.”
‘Be an active part of our village’
Perkins said, ‘it takes a village to educate a child.’
“We now are asking you to be an active part of our village,” Perkins said, adding that in the forums, the public said the schools needed to be changed to meet current educational and workforce needs. During the forums, it became clear the current strategies and structures would not prepare graduates to fill the job expectations of the future.
“Our students need more career and technical education; more science, engineering, technology and math; our students need more college credit dual credit opportunities; our students need more vocational opportunities; our students need a new school that is more conducive to the CTE and STEAM learning environment,” she said. “These facilities need to be built in a way that will allow us to continue our education for the adults in our community as well.”
Perkins said the new school needs to have the facilities to allow them to graduate with an associate degree and/or certificates and credentials that will provide them the opportunity for immediate employment here, at home. She said the new high school will never negatively affect what Fred Eberle Technical Center, but will enhance it and offer more CTE opportunities.
“To accomplish this, we are building a new high school and renovating the current high school to become the much-needed new middle school,” Perkins said. “This plan is a bridge between where we are and where we need to be to meet the ever-changing educational need of our students.”
Perkins said at this time, Upshur County Schools needs citizens more than ever to rally around the vision by embracing it, supporting it, and helping it become a reality.
“Our community support is the last step needed to make this vision possible,” Perkins said. “Please become part of our village and help us build a new high school and provide the middle school with a newer facility as well.”
Architects: ‘The plan will be what you all tell us it is going to be’
Perkins then introduced Ted Shriver, architect with Williamson Shriver Architects in Charleston, along with associates Jason Shantie and Greg Martin. Shriver said the next step in the process was to talk about how to obtain the new high school and renovate the old high school to become the new middle school.
“At this point, the only bond plan we have is that there is going to be a new high school and we want to renovate the old high school to become the new middle school,” Shriver said. “The plan will be what you all tell us it is going to be. We have a general idea based on our past experience and based on state guidelines. There will be nearly 20 meetings over the next several weeks to gain all that information and so everyone can understand what the bond will consist of.”
Shriver said they will be meeting with high and middle school faculty and staff, meeting with local business and community groups and holding public forums to present the information they have heard from all of the stakeholders.
“We need to apprise everybody (the taxpayers) as to what they are paying for,” Shriver said. “We shouldn’t just put on the ballot to vote for the new high school, so these meetings will apprise all of the stakeholders [and gather input as to what they] feel that needs to consist of. My hope is that everybody understands what that high school and middle school will consist of and [we want to] have everyone stand behind that so we can continue to give great awards to the students in the curriculum of these proposed facilities.”
Shriver said to date, there have been some conversations as to where the new high school should be located.
“Previously the Board of Education purchased some property adjacent to the high school, and that was planned to be the new middle school,” Shriver said. “There were some discussions about that property being used for the new high school and some discussions about potentially looking elsewhere.”
However, it soon became evident that constructing a new high school elsewhere was not an option.
“It was soon understood that moving the high school would be moving it away from all of the other complexes on the campus – the soccer stadium, football stadium, track stadium, the pool – all of those are here on the campus,” he continued, “so, the current thought process is to leave it here on the campus of the high school adjacent to the property that was purchased for the middle school. So, the property does not have to be purchased and does not have to be expended.”
The timeline leading up to the bond call election
“Ultimately, during the promotion of the bond, we will have documents showing exactly where the proposed building will go and where the parking and traffic patterns will be,” Shriver said.
He said there will be stakeholder meetings through the first of September and there is an initial application that is due to the School Building Authority Sept. 10.
“We would be proposing to request a reserve grant that would be subject to the passage of the bond call,” he said. “We would still continue to plan and design the facility to some degree so the citizens, parents, faculty, staff and taxpayers understand as much as you can about what these facilities are going to be. The meetings will continue through October and the bond call adoption has to be approved 60 days prior to the actual election.”
He said the BOE will have to adopt the bond call on or about Nov. 15, 2021, and the bond election will be Jan. 15, 2022.
“Upon passage of the bond call, we can start the next phase, which is to finish the design, and ultimately, go out to bid and start construction of the new high school and middle school,” Shriver said.
Meeting attendee Todd Starkey asked the architects if solar energy systems could be used to power the new school and train students. Shriver said they could be, and might be utilized in some of the STEAM classes.
“You can take panels that bring in electricity to power things – we have utilized those on some of our lead certified schools – we also use wind turbines to power some of the schools,” Shriver said. “This is what we need to happen over the next couple of weeks: ideas you all bring to the table such as renewable energy going back into the grid.”
Dr. Joseph Reed asked the architects what the relationship of the new high school would be with the Fred Eberle Technical Center, which provides career and technical training.
“The career and technical center at the new high school will be completely different from the ones offered at FETC,” Shriver said. “FETC will still have their programs. The director there is in support of the CTE wing at the new high school because they will be different programs that will not detract from Fred Eberle.”
Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said the high school will never be in direct competition with FETC.
“Their programs are really at capacity so we will complement what they are doing,” Stankus said. “The director is working on the side of us. They have welding and auto tech so we will work together. We share FETC with two other counties.”