FRENCH CREEK – The superintendent of Upshur County Schools said this week that “the pot boils down, you see what is at the bottom.”
Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus was referring to the state of the current middle school facility during a public meeting Tuesday at French Creek Elementary School that preceded the regular Upshur County Board of Education meeting. Stankus urged community members who attended the Oct. 12 public meeting on the proposed new high school and bond levy to consider how the reimagined Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School will change education for the better for Upshur County students.
The current middle school was built in 1925, and it housed students in grades 7 to 12 and in 1958, following extensive renovations, it was home base for students in grades 7 to 9 before the current Buckhannon-Upshur High School was built in 1977 on Route 20 in Tennerton.
Renovations to the school were made and Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School was created which houses students in grades 6-8. Traditionally, Upshur County has usually selected to build a new high school and use the former high school as a middle school, Stankus and other Upshur County schools officials said at Tuesday’s public meeting.
Also during the public information meeting, Upshur County Schools Facilities Director Tim Derico shared another consideration about the current middle school: the roof is in need of replacing as it has come to the end of its life.
And the estimated cost of replacing the middle school’s roof? That adds up to approximately $3.25 million, Derico said.
“Maintenance-wise, the Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School is an albatross,” Derico said during the public meeting. “We are fortunate in the care that has been given to that building: the floors have been well-maintained over the years, and the teachers have done a good job making the classrooms welcoming, but when you walk into a new facility, you recognize the difference in a modern-day facility.”
Stankus and Upshur County Finance Director Jeffrey Perkins said maintenance costs for Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School are exorbitant.
“We have spent $7.4 million in 10 years at the middle school just to keep it in code,” Stankus said.
“You can see a trend,” Perkins added. “During the COVID years, when the buildings were mostly closed, costs for maintenance were approximately $750,000.”
Stankus said that was just to keep it safe for the kids.
“In the first month I was here as superintendent, I was told they needed to abate just one room and the cost was $26,000,” Stankus shared. “That was when we were a ‘distressed’ county. You have to have a special company come in to remove it, and I said, ‘Let’s just not use that classroom’ and was told we were not able to do that. I was told we had to fix it the right way because it was about safety.”
Stankus said at this point, they are unable to disturb the middle school’s walls to hang up anything.
“We have to put things on top of things,” she said. “On one of the pictures in the video and the handouts, there is a white board screwed into a chalk board. We have to put things on top of other things just to stay safe at the middle school. If you think about maintenance costs of $7.4 million over 10 years, we could have built a new school.”
Another fact to consider, according to Perkins, is that although the last school bond, which failed in 2011, was for notably less than $49.4 million – a $36 million bond had been proposed – the total cost to taxpayers should the 2022 bond pass is actually expected to amount to less due to record-low interest rates. Specifically, the interest rate than was 6.5 percent compared to 1.5 percent now, Perkins said.
“We proposed a bond to borrow $36 million to build a new middle school in 2011,” Perkins said. “The School Building Authority was going to contribute $12 million and the whole project would have been $48 million. The interest rate then was 6.5 percent. Over the course of 15 years, we would have paid back the $36 million plus $19.5 million in interest. Currently, interest rates are running about 1.5 percent. So, though we are talking about borrowing $49 million this time the interest we will pay back in 15 years is much less. The cost of the building is more but the cost to borrow is much less.”
(You can read more about interest rates’ impact on how much the bond will cost taxpayers in this previous article.)
“We just want you to know the facts so if anyone asks you, you will be able to answer questions or have them call us,” Stankus said. “Another fact we want folks to know is the fifth grade will stay in the elementary schools and will not be moved up to the new middle school. When we were talking to the community, one of the things they were highly engaged in is that they did not want the fifth-graders to leave the elementary schools. They did not want that to happen. We listen to the community.”
During the regular Board of Education meeting, members voted unanimously to approve a proposal for a new Buckhannon-Upshur Comprehensive Career and Technical Education High School and approve the 2022 Needs Grant Submission to the School Building Authority of West Virginia which includes a request for $21 million from the SBA.
BOE members also unanimously approved adopting an order directing that a school bond election be held in conjunction with a Jan. 15, 2022 special election, which would, among other things, authorize the issuance by the board of its $49.4 million public school bond and the imposition of a special property tax levy on property located in Upshur County for the purpose of repaying such bonds in order to finance public school construction and improvements in the Upshur County School District.