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Upshur County Board of Education President Dr. Tammy Samples speaks at the Aug. 30 public forum at B-UHS.

School officials optimistic about receiving grant money for new high school at first public info forum

TENNERTON – Upshur County Schools hopes to obtain funds through a bond levy to build a new Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

A bond issue election that will determine whether Upshur County Schools can move forward with plans to build a new high school in Tennerton and renovate the current Buckhannon-Upshur High School building into a new middle school is tentatively slated to take place Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, Upshur County Schools officials announced in late August.

Leading up to that bond levy election, several Upshur County School officials spoke during the first of a series of informational public meetings about the new school Monday, Aug. 30.

“We are ready to hopefully move forward with this new school for our students and have a focus of the school being CTE, or career and technical education, offering more job paths for our students because college isn’t for everyone,” Upshur County Board of Education President Dr. Tammy Samples said. “It will be separate, so we can add more programs and we do need your help. This is going to be a community project. We’ve already had several meetings asking the community what they needed, and it was a school.”

Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan Committee Chair Vanessa Perkins said the board has heard the community ask for a new school – and now they have a plan.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the vision is huge and solely focuses on our students’ future. We’ve had several community forums, and we’ve heard both your concerns and your ‘must-haves’ for our students and the future,” Perkins said. “We have taken your vision, and we are ready to move forward. We’ve heard you loud and clear: You want a new school. So, let me explain what that will look like, how we get there and how you can help make this happen.”

Every year, the board of education submits a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan to the state, detailing the county’s facilities and current needs. These reports are integral to receiving funding and building or renovating schools.

“The CEFP process is tedious, time-consuming and requires so much research and analysis of a variety of data points, and we are pleased to announce that we have successfully been able to provide hundreds of pieces of data required to move forward to the next stage,” Perkins said.

The new school would provide a career technical education and more opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) fields.

“This facility will allow them to graduate with an associate degree and more certificates and credentials, which will provide them [with] opportunities for immediate employment,” Perkins said. “This facility will not negatively affect Fred Eberle Technical Center but will offer more CTE opportunities. To accomplish this, we are building a new high school and we are renovating the current high school to become the much-needed new middle school.”

Jeffrey Perkins, treasurer for Upshur County Schools, explained where the funding for this project would be coming from.

“For planning purposes – and please keep in mind these numbers are fluid and subject to change – for planning purposes, the cost of this project is a $70 million build for the new high school, along with improvements to this school [the current high school] and that breaks out to about $62-and-a-half million for the new school and $7.5 million in renovations for this current facility,” Jeffrey Perkins said.

The board and school system administrators are optimistic about receiving about one-third of the funds from the School Building Authority of West Virginia.

“We talked with the School Building Authority, and preliminarily, they are very happy with how we’re looking – with the cost-savings by using this property we already have – and a campus environment provides cost-savings over a standalone school,” Jeffrey Perkins said. “They’ve offered to support us with about $21 million in state aid. It’s all tentative, and it all depends upon the School Building Authority’s approval as the project moves forward, but we’re comfortable we will be accepted and will receive that funding over a number of years.”

The rest of the funding will potentially come from a bond levy. A bond levy election, which is tentatively slated to take place Jan. 15, 2022 – 60 days after the Upshur BOE would consider adopting the bond call on Nov. 15, 2021.

“That makes Upshur County’s responsibility $59 million, so how do you get the $59 million? Well, we get to that number by running a bond initiative, so we’ll be asking the citizens of Upshur County to support a bond initiative, probably in the month of January,” Jeffrey Perkins explained. “If you would take your current Class 1 property and multiply it by 5.83 cents, your Class 2 property and multiply it by 19.66 and a Class 3 and 4 properties by 39.32 cents, that’ll give you the amount that your taxes would be increased with this bond levy.”

During the forum, attendees had a chance to pose questions to the architects and school personnel, and one audience member asked Ted Shriver, architect with the Charleston-based firm Williamson Shriver Architects, what the turnaround time would be for a new school.

“The School Building Authority, when they write grants, they have to be spent within three years, so the planning grant would be awarded in December and the bond passage would be in January,” Shriver said. “The day after, we can continue the design process, and somewhere around two-and-a-half to three years, you would open that facility and then the students would move into the new facility while the high school was renovated for the middle school,” Shriver said.

An audience member asked Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus if there was a specific amount that needed to be allotted before breaking ground or if the SBA would provide sufficient funds to break ground. Stankus said the $21 million provided by the SBA would be enough to break ground.

Another audience member asked Stankus if the new high school would be expected to share sports facilities with the old high school/new middle school.

“We would make some additions to our athletic complex,” Stankus said. “The SBA will not fund athletic complexes or getting athletic fields, but the county [school system] has plans to add on because of course we need more practice fields if we have two schools sharing.”

The next public forum to discuss constructing a new high school and relocating the middle school will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14 at Rock Cave Elementary School, located at 12292 Rt. 20 South Road in Rock Cave.

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