Dr. Debra Harrison, assistant superintendent of Upshur County Schools, discusses the proposed new Comprehensive Career and Technical Education Buckhannon-Upshur High School and reimagined Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School at a Nov. 30 public informational forum. / My Buckhannon file photo by Beth Christian Broschart

School Building Authority of W.Va. expresses support for Upshur County’s plan to build new high school

CHARLESTON – A representative with the School Building Authority of West Virginia on Friday expressed support for Upshur County Schools’ plan to build a new comprehensive career-and-technical high school and renovate the current Buckhannon-Upshur High School into a reimagined middle school.

Ben Ashley, director of architectural services for the statewide funding agency, said School Building Authority staff considers Upshur County Schools’ ‘Vision of the Future’ an “excellent project” and “fully supports [Upshur] county’s desire to pass a bond to address these facility issues.”

My Buckhannon contacted the SBA for clarification regarding the process for disbursing funding to applicants after the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported Monday that the county had not been awarded $21 million in funding they had applied for this cycle during an announcement of awards Dec. 13.

Ashley explained the decision was entirely a procedural one related to timing.

“The SBA thinks very highly of this project and is extremely appreciative and supportive of the work that Dr. Stankus and her team have completed to this point,” he wrote in an email Friday. “Upshur County was not outrightly denied SBA funding for the project – we just can’t tie up our funding in this cycle without knowing Upshur County’s commitment is also secure – this is a procedural and timing issue.”

That commitment would come in the form of the passage of the bond levy call during the January election, which SBA officials say must be in place prior to the agency issuing $21 million – or about one-third of the money – to Upshur County Schools. According to previous stories, a simple majority of registered voters need to vote in favor of the bond levy call, which would provide $49.4 million for construction of a new CTE high school and an updated middle school, both of which would be located on B-UHS’s Tennerton campus.

(You can read more about the school system’s plans here or here.)

Ashley went on to say the agency will likely award funding to Upshur County Schools in 2022 if the bond levy measure passes during the Jan. 15, 2022, special election.

“The SBA staff feels this is an excellent project and fully supports the county’s desire to pass a bond to address these facility issues,” Ashley wrote. “However, the SBA staff cannot recommend funding this project until local financing is secured from the bond’s passage. If the county is successful in passing the bond, the project should rate high in the SBA staff’s recommendations in the next funding cycle.”

“If the BOE is successful in obtaining approval from the voters, we expect the county to reapply for Needs funding for this project, and while we can’t speak for the Authority’s board, I don’t see a reason why this wouldn’t be one of the top projects next year,” he added. “This is a great plan the county has created.”

Additional School Building Authority staff comments may be viewed here.

In a statement Thursday, Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus outlined how events have transpired since the school system delivered its presentation to the SBA in September.

“On September 27, 2021, Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, presented to the School Building Authority (SBA) and received approval to include the School Building Authority as part of the finance plan for Upshur County’s capital improvement bond election,” Stankus wrote. “The funding commitment, as noted in the minutes of the SBA meeting, is ‘contingent upon successful passage of the proposed bond.’ The bond call clearly stipulates how the monies will be spent on two projects: a new Buckhannon-Upshur CTE High School, and the renovations of the current Buckhannon-Upshur High School to convert to a reimagined Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.”

Stankus said she and Upshur Schools officials are excited about the chance to build one new school and renovate another based on feedback gathered from community stakeholders during a series of public meetings held over the past couple of years. The school system used the input collected to develop a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, as it’s required to do every 10 years.

“We are looking forward to fulfilling the community’s request to build a new comprehensive, career-technical Buckhannon-Upshur High School and a reimagined Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School,” Stankus wrote. “Our project was well-received by the SBA, as it demonstrates innovation and empowerment. These schools will be state-of-the-art facilities in West Virginia and will allow us to prepare our students for jobs of the future that do not yet exist.”

Voters may read the bond call ahead of time via a sample ballot posted on the Upshur County Clerk’s website and view key information about early voting, Election Day voting, polling locations, what to bring when voting, advice from county clerk Carol Smith and more in this article.

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