FAYETTE COUNTY, W.Va. — Voters in Fayette County could take up a new school bond proposal as soon as May to fund a replacement building for Collins Middle School in Oak Hill.
“It’s simply been devastating,” said Denise Smithson, a special education teacher at Collins Middle School, where last week’s abrupt shutdown of the main building forced seventh- and eighth-graders to be relocated to other campuses.
The cost to rebuild Collins Middle School is estimated at $27 million. In 2009, voters in Fayette County overwhelmingly rejected a $49 million bond that would have consolidated four high schools while funding many other school renovation projects.
Some 400 teachers and students must be moved to other campuses after an engineering report found the building at Collins Middle to be unsafe structurally.
“It’s been extremely stressful and, as adults, we understand the larger picture, but it’s difficult on the kids with the disruption to their lives,” Smithson said.
Fifth- and sixth-grade students will remain at Collins Middle School in a separate building. But Smithson, who is assigned to all grades, said the entire school community is reeling.
“These are fellow professionals, the teachers that we teach with side by side,” she said. “Many of them I’ve worked with over the four years that I’ve been here who summarily were told ‘You can take a desk, a chair and a file cabinet and pack up your classroom.’ You may have been there for 15, 16, 18 years, but tomorrow you will need to leave.”
For the rest of the school year, at least, Collins Middle seventh-graders will attend Fayetteville High School. The Collins eighth-graders will attend Oak Hill High School.
Olivia Tygrett has three children in the Fayette County school system. She said Collins Middle School is just one of many schools there with problems. “The ventilation is horrible, the building leaks—and this is Fayetteville Elementary, this isn’t even Collins Middle School,” she told MetroNews.
A West Virginia native, Tygrett said she returned home seven years ago to raise her family. “I was devastated when I saw the schools and that nothing had been done since I was a student in the 1980s and 1990s,” she said.
Since 2010, the state Board of Education has taken control over Fayette County schools.
“The (local) board is saying their hands are tied because the state runs it. The state’s not doing anything. Somebody has to be accountable,” Tygrett said. “So, either the state fixes it, or puts it (control) back to the county.”
Open houses are scheduled for Wednesday from 5-6 p.m. at Oak Hill School, the new school site for Collins eighth-graders, and Thursday from 6-7 p.m. at Fayetteville High School, for the relocated seventh-graders.
County schools are closed Monday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.