SBA funding for major capital improvements — like a new middle school — is on hold for now

ROCK CAVE – The costs of many everyday items have been climbing for some time, and building materials are certainly no exception.

As a result of inflation, the School Building Authority of West Virginia has had to adjust its plans for funding distribution, which will, in turn, impact Upshur County Schools’ plans to apply for money to construct a much-needed new middle school.

In June 2022, Upshur County Schools officials updated their Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan to address the need for a new middle school, designating it as their first priority. To build a new middle school, officials said they would take their proposal to the SBA for funding.

But according to school officials, the SBA has hit the brakes on funding for the time being. According to meeting minutes on the SBA’s website, at a special meeting Aug. 11, SBA members voted to cancel the December 2022 NEEDS funding cycle. Upshur County Schools had applied for NEEDS funding — i.e., grant money to complete major capital improvement projects funded through the SBA’s General Construction Fund.

So, during the Sept. 13 Upshur County Board of Education meeting, My Buckhannon spoke with Upshur County Board of Education members and schools’ administrators to see where the plan for funding for a new middle school was landing at this point.

Upshur County Schools Finance Director Jeffrey Perkins said the SBA has decided not to distribute money during the fall funding cycle.

“This decision was made because of the increased cost of funding projects that were currently in place,” Perkins said. “They plan on moving forward once funding is provided for additional projects.”

Perkins said the project the Upshur County Schools planned to present to the SBA in October or November of 2022 was for a new middle school.

“That project to build a new middle school will be submitted the next time they offer funding for those projects,” Perkins explained. “We are looking at this more as a delay than a cancellation. We think we still stand a good chance at [obtaining our funding] for this moving forward.”

Perkins said the SBA is looking at the cost of labor and analyzing those factors when making their decisions.

“We work closely with the SBA when we are talking about projects, and they realize the projects that were bid [out] a year ago will increase significantly,” Perkins said. “Moving forward, they understand these projects will become more expensive, and they know that then they are asking the West Virginia Legislature for more funds.”

Upshur County Board of Education President Dr. Tammy Samples said it is disappointing that new project funding is on hold.

“We are always looking for ways to fund projects, and we are not going to have that this year,” Samples said. “Hopefully, it will be back and we will apply for money in the spring.”

Upshur County Schools Facilities Director Tim Derico said the SBA will not be entertaining any new projects that this time – but the entity is committed to seeing through the proposals it previously voted to fund.

“They are being cautious not to entertain any new projects because of inflation,” Derico said. “That will allow them to cover projects they have already voted to fund. Had we been one of those projects that were already approved and then realized inflation costs were rising, you would be happy the SBA is willing to stand behind those projects and support them through completion.”

Derico said the impact this has on Upshur County Schools is merely sliding their design and construction schedule of events farther down the road.

“Our next submission plan is for a new middle school project, however, we will proceed with that project – which could include submission for funding a year from now,” Derico said. “The SBA could possibly do some kind of interim acceptance of submissions if they receive more monies.”

Dr. Debra Harrison, interim superintendent of Upshur County Schools, said she believes Upshur County residents are resourceful.

“We are looking at a variety of ways to do the things we need to do,” Harrison said. “SBA has been wonderful in helping us with our projects and it is on hold temporarily. We are not sure when funding from SBA will be taken off hold – hopefully soon.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Harrison said Upshur County Schools must proceed with the resources they have.

“We need to do the best we can for our kids,” Harrison said. “That is what it is all about.”

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