September 28, 2015 Pocahontas Schools’ Public Forum on School Facilities
On Monday evening, September 28th the Pocahontas County Schools held an open public forum at the Marlinton Elementary School. There were about 50 or so parents; school employees and concerned citizens present. Mr. Terrence Beam, the Interim School Superintendent began the meeting at 5 p.m. by explaining the purpose.
“This is not a Board meeting, this is simply a sharing of information as to what I believe needs done in the area of school facilities” said Mr. Beam. “This is just a starting point. At the end of the day I am sure you will have more questions than answers.”
Mr. Beam then addressed some rumors about the process.
“There are rumors out there and I want to address the ones I heard about” said Mr. Beam. “First of all ‘is this already a done deal?’ ‘Are we closing schools, building new ones, fixing the ones we have?’ It is not a done deal. This is just an opportunity for us to get your input as to what you think we should do with our facilities. I think we all at the end of the day will agree that our facilities are in need of repair or replacement or something. The question is how do we address that, how do we do that? In what order do we do that? What’s our number one priority? What’s less important? Those are the things we have to discuss.”
He also addressed the rumor that they are about to send a proposal to the School Building Authority (SBA) to address the facility issues. This rumor is true, he explained, unless you send a proposal to the SBA you have no chance at receiving State money to help address the issues.
Mr. Beam went on to detail some of the issues at each school.
Regarding Marlinton Middle School, Mr. Beam explained that the school sits on a flood plain, has traffic issues which pose possible dangers to students, and both faculty and students seem to get sick more often there. Marlinton Middle School’s electrical capacity is maxed out and the school needs air conditioning. The Green Bank School is in the worst shape. It needs a roof, new furnaces, a new sewer system and a new sprinkler system. The Fire Marshall has threatened to shut down the Green Bank School. The High School does have air conditioning and a large mostly unused capacity of 700 students, but has water problems and security issues. Hillsboro Elementary is in pretty good shape except it needs central air conditioning. He said the community recently purchased portable air conditioners for the classrooms.
Mr. Beam pointed out that there are only three choices.
- Apply for SBA funding to repair and/or replace schools, which would mean being required to do things exactly as the SBA dictates.
- Do the repairs ourselves, which would require a high School Levy or a Bond
- Do nothing, which is not really an option. He pointed out that the entire school system has a $80,000/year maintenance and repair budget and over half of that has already been spent in the first month of school. If the furnaces at Green Bank completely fail there is no money for replacement, which could cost over 4 million dollars just for that one replacement at one school. If a flood takes out Marlinton Elementary School, there will be no place to move the students to.
Mr. Beam presented his ideas. He feels the highest priority is getting the Marlinton Elementary kids out of the flood plain. He feels that they could be moved to Marlinton Middle School which is the newest school, has no traffic issues, is well out of the flood plain and was built with expansion in mind. He thinks it is possible to turn what is now Marlinton Middle School into a Pre-K through 6th grade elementary school. The High school could be expanded to being a 7th through 12th grade school with Green Bank and Hillsboro becoming Pre-K through 6th grade schools. But, if the SBA mandates that Hillsboro be closed, their students would go to the new Marlinton Elementary School located at where the Middle School now is. If that was required, possibly the Board of Education could move into the Hillsboro building. His plan would also have the advantage of getting rid of the present Marlinton Elementary and School Board buildings and all their maintenance and expensive flood insurance costs.
Citizens at the meeting offered constructive ideas. One citizen suggested moving the Marlinton Elementary School students to Hillsboro, and the Board of Education to the High School, but it was pointed out that this would exceed maximum bus ride times for Snowshoe area students. Others suggested that a common sense school levy which lists capital improvements as the number one priority instead of athletics could possibly be passed. Another suggested that the Schools prepare a Cost Analysis which calculates the salaries and expenses at each of the schools and divides that figure by the number of students at each school to find out the cost per student at each of the schools. Others questioned if additional transportation costs were being taken into account or if demolition costs of the Marlinton Elementary building and the School Board building had been calculated- the answer was not yet. Some were concerned about mixing 7th and 8th graders with High School students because of the drug and alcohol issues at the High School.
Mr. Beam explained the SBA’s timeline. Written proposals must be submitted to the SBA by October 1st, and then orally presented in November to the SBA with project approval or rejection in December. He said that just submitting a proposal was no guarantee of its acceptance, and it did not commit the County Schools to do the project either. The meeting ended with a promise of more public discussion and on a constructive note.