SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. – The plan to consolidate multiple schools in the Nicholas County School system has received heavy criticism from Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber.
At a meeting Monday, the Nicholas County Board of Education approved of Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick’s proposal to consolidate Nicholas County High, Richwood High and Nicholas County Career and Technical Center schools into one high school facility, and Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle schools into one middle school.
A public hearing must be held for each school considered for consolidation, where the public will be allowed to ask questions.
Nicholas County Board of Education President Gus Penix said the consolidation is related to damage from last June’s flood as well as a declining enrollment rate.
“We have gone from 5,200 in 1991 to 3,795 students in the current school year,” Penix said. “That’s a drop of 26 percent in our student population.”
“If the flood had not occurred, we would be considering these options in the next Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan, which would be due by 2019, 2020.”
Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle schools were heavily damaged in the flood.
During the meeting, Baber addressed the board, saying the Richwood’s population will increase within five years, saying the town is going to be “the tip of the arrow in the new Appalachia.”
Baber later challenged Burge-Tetrick about population data. After numerous interruptions, Baber was escorted out of the meeting.
“The preliminary data that the superintendent gave was all doom and gloom,” Baber said.
Baber said there are multiple factors contributing to possible growth in Richwood, including Neighbors Loving Neighbors, a program that helps people affected by the flood return to normal housing.
“Forty new homes are going to be built in Richwood,” Baber said. “That means babies. That means food. That means refrigerators, washers, dryers. That’s economic development, and it’s going to happen as a result of the flood.”
Baber said consolidation was never brought up by the system in the past, and communication between Richwood and the board has deteriorated.
“Now, we have no relationship with the board whatsoever,” Baber said.
Penix said the next step is to demolish Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle schools. A $397,000 bid was approved at Monday’s meeting. FEMA will fund the replacement of schools.
“We’re looking at the superintendent’s recommendation, and then we will move forward with construction plans and how to replace those schools,” Penix said.
Baber said he is standing up for Richwood.
“We are going to get our schools back as promised by FEMA,” Baber said. “We are going to win this battle against the board of education.”
The first public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 at Summersville Middle School.