CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state Board of Education gave approval to the new Nicholas County post-flood school building plan in a unanimous vote Wednesday in Charleston.
The plan, which calls for new high schools and middle schools for the Richwood and Summersville areas, is the result of a mediation effort headed up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency which will pay for most of the construction following the 2016 flood that destroyed three schools in the county.
Wednesday’s vote follows a Monday vote by the Nicholas County BOE that also approved the plan.
Nicholas County School Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick told the state board she’s committed to helping unify the county over what’s been a very contentious issue.
“I am a people person. I love people. I’m passionate about people and anybody that works with me will tell you that. So given the chance, we will heal the county the best we can and I’ll certainly be the cheerleader to do it,” Burge-Tetrick said.
There were several members of the Richwood community at Wednesday’s meeting. Some of them expressed relief that schools would stay in their community but concern that the Cherry River Elementary School property is the leading site for construction of a new Richwood High School and middle school. Resident Sharon Glascock told the state board most of the 391 public comments that came out after the mediation plan was released have been against it.
“Only 26 percent of those comments are in favor of the proposed mediation. Seventy-four percent are against but the mediation does not indicate the 74 percent are being heard,” Glascock said.
Richwood residents have also expressed concern that a new vocational education school would be constructed on the Glade Creek property–moving it from its current location in Craigsville. Burge-Tetrick said the Glade Creek property, where a new Nicholas County High School and middle school are to be built, is cheaper than another site under consideration. She said FEMA is big on “cost reasonableness.”
“It’s kinda of hard to shake out cost reasonable when you can go 24 miles down the road for $37,000 a acre versus $400,000 an acre,” she said.
Burge-Tetrick couldn’t tell state board members specifics about classroom sizes for the new schools. The mediation plan gives Nicholas County residents a choice of where they want to send their kids. She said survey information would help make those decisions.
State School Board member Debra Sullivan told Nicholas County officials the hard work starts now.
“Bright new facilities are really just the beginning–now comes the hard part. Believe it or not what you’ve done is the easy part. Now comes the hard part and you need to shift time and attention,” she said.
“I want the best for both sides of the county and I want to support both sides of the county,” she said.
The plan next goes to the state School Building Authority which will be asked Thursday to change Nicholas County’s school facilities plan to reflect the mediation proposal. FEMA must also still give the final okay. Burge-Tetrick said she’s hopeful new schools could be built in 2 to 3 years.
State School Superintendent Steve Paine didn’t seem to think financing would be a problem for the new schools.
“There is still state money that’s been set aside for the floods not only in Richwood but Rainelle and Kanawha County as well,” Paine said Wednesday.
The mediation followed a 2017 legal tug-of-war between the Nicholas County board and the the state board. The state board rejected Nicholas County’s original plan and a court challenge upheld the state board decision.