CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s possible site preparation for the construction of a new Herbert Hoover High School in Kanawha County won’t begin until November 2019. A pending bat study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could push the timbering of the site back by one year, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.
The flooding committee, which was created by the legislature in the months following the June 2016 flood, got an update on school construction timelines from officials with the state School Building Authority.
The construction of a new Herbert Hoover High, Bridge/Clendenin Elementary in Kanawha County and new schools near Richwood and Summersville in Nicholas County are all federally funded projects and the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires many studies and justifications.
Herbert Hoover Principal Mike Kelley said community members have been patient but are growing somewhat frustrated with the process.
“The community is antsy. The community is anxious to see some work being done,” Kelley told the committee. “We’ve tried to provide as much information as we can to the community that there is fact work ongoing but they don’t see it and you know how that can go sometimes.”
Hoover kids are currently housed in portable classroom buildings on the campus of Elkview Middle School.
Kelley said if bats are found on the chosen site they can only be removed between November and March. He is pushing for the completion of the study to meet the window beginning this November.
“What is of the upmost importance to us, if that is the case (bats on the property), that we timber between this November, November of 2018 and March of 2019,” Kelley said.
The bat study is scheduled to begin June 1 and finish up in early August.
When giving the timeline for the Hoover project to lawmakers, SBA interim Director of School Planning and Construction Ben Ashley put timbering beginning in November 2019, a year later than Kelley hopes.
“I don’t know if that can happen this year but we didn’t want to present something early and be wrong by a year. This is kind of a worst case scenario,” he said.
The SBA puts the actual building construction of the Hoover project between 2019-2021 with students attending classes for the first time in the fall of 2021, more than five years after the flood. The SBA timeline for the new Bridge-Clendenin Elementary is a year earlier, scheduled to finish in time for students to begin in the fall of 2010.
The Bridge-Clendenin School is estimated to cost $34 million and the new Hoover school $58 million, Ashley said.
Site justification from FEMA for both schools is expected sometime in July. After that the properties can be purchased.
The Nicholas County mediated school construction plan is still awaiting approval from FEMA after gaining approval from the county school board, state school board and SBA earlier this month.
Ashley said there’s really no one to blame for the length of the process. He said going through the federal government takes time.
“There are a lot of extra things we have to do,” he said.
For example, the SBA is building a new Ruppert Elementary School in Greenbrier County in connection with the flood but the project has no federal money and it’s scheduled to be done later this year, Ashley said.
“We awarded that project six months after the flood happened and we’ll be ready to go in it two years later but with these projects where the federal government is involved there’s a whole lot more steps to go through,” Ashley said.
Meanwhile, state Homeland Security and Emergency Services Director Jimmy Gianato told the committee Tuesday the state is still waiting to hear from FEMA on the state’s request for a 90-10 reimbursement rate from the 2016 flood instead of the 75-25 rate.
Gianato said he was confident the federal threshold would soon be met.
“We are currently at $177 million of federal funds obligated for the 2016 flood. The threshold for 90-10 is $253 million. We’re fairly confident we are going to hit the 90-10 threshold as soon as Kanawha County and Nicholas County (school projects) are obligated (by FEMA),” Gianato said. “Until they obligate those funds we won’t go back to the 90-10 threshold.”
Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin first asked for the increased reimbursement rate in July 2016.