Board of education votes to apply for $21 million SBA grant to construct new middle school

TENNERTON – Upshur County Board of Education members on Tuesday voted to apply for $21 million in Needs Grant funding through the West Virginia School Building Authority to construct a new county middle school.

The BOE voted unanimously to apply for a 2023 W.Va. SBA Needs Grant that would pay for just over two-thirds of the cost of building a new school for grades 6-8. Upshur County Schools administrators said the school system will still need to come up with approximately $10 million in local funds.

At the June 14 BOE meeting, Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said this was a continuation of a conversation that has spanned the last several BOE meetings.

“Building a new middle school is the number one priority of the county,” Stankus said. “Our amendment to our Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan was approved by the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia School Building Authority.”

Stankus explained the proposed application would be for a new middle school. Recently, Upshur County voters failed to pass a bond that would provide local funds to build a new high school and renovate the current high school into a revamped middle school. In a previous Upshur County BOE meeting, officials said there would not be another bond election to raise funds for building a new school.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done before we submit this in the fall,” Stankus said at the BOE’s June 14 meeting. “This is the outline of the application we plan to submit. It would include grades 6 through 8 and we met with Dr. Kathy D’Antoni and Dr. McNally to talk about project-based learning and being an empowerment district. We are very excited about that.”

Upshur County Financial Director Jeffrey Perkins spoke about the financial piece of the potential new middle school. Perkins said the total project cost is $31,377,949.

“That is based upon the formula that was in our eight-year projected enrollment,” Perkins explained. “That would be 870 students and they are calculated into a formula that determines the square footage needed for the school and the square footage has a cost-per-square-foot that gives us the $31 million number.”

Upshur County Schools plans to apply for approximately $21 million in grant funding from the SBA but would still need to scrape together $10 million in local dollars. Perkins said Upshur County Schools administrators and the SBA know the numbers are undervalued, given the current inflation rate and the costs moving forward.

“But this is still the formula that was used,” Perkins said. “All things being equal, the amount the SBA would provide and the amount we would provide would go up equally. So, of our $31 million project, we are looking at currently a $21 million grant from the West Virginia School Building Authority, and we are looking at local funds in the area of about $10 million. Those funds would come from a couple of different methods – first of all, thanks to the world of COVID, we will have a few dollars that we can move towards that.”

Next, Perkins explained that over the past five years, there were lease-to-own contracts that have come to fruition, freeing up some monies that weren’t previously available.

“The amount of money we would have been paying on these projects is available to put toward new items. Our best projection is our costs would be about $1 million a year for 15 years,” Perkins said. “Those are rounded-off numbers. The amount of money we are not spending from three years ago on leases is approximately $700,000. The remainder of the $300,000 would come from the reduced cost of operation of the new facility (the new middle school) versus the old facility, the current middle school.”

Perkins said he wanted to point out that completing repairs to the current middle school building has been calculated to cost an estimated $17.6 million.

“The WV School Building Authority looks at that and they apply percentages,” Perkins said. “We fall into the category of the type of project they are looking for. We are moving forward with this. It doesn’t say what the school would look like, and it doesn’t say the design criteria – all of those things moving forward we will work as a group together to see what that would look like.”

BOE member Kristi Wilkerson made a motion to approve the development of a 2023 Needs Grant submission to the WV SBA for a new middle school. The motion received a second by BOE Vice President Katie Loudin. Upshur County BOE members voted unanimously to approve the submission of the 2023 Needs Grant.

The Upshur County BOE also voted unanimously to cancel their June 30, 2022, meeting. The next Upshur County BOE meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 6 at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

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