CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The wait continues for ground to be broken on the construction of two schools in Kanawha County that were destroyed by the June 2016 floods.
Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, recently wrote a letter to Gov. Jim Justice asking for help on this matter as Jeffries said in the letter that the community feels betrayed and forgotten that nothing has been done yet.
Herbert Hoover High School (HHHS) and Clendenin Elementary School were both devastated by the floods, as students at HHHS are remaining to be taught in portable classrooms sitting in the parking lot of Elkview Middle School.
“They have been contained in portables and they are nice to have something but the kids need a school,” Jeffries said. “It’s rough on our community. Schools are their identity, they are socio-economic drivers. Without having those, our community is suffering.”
Justice has seen the letter, according to Jeffries and the two parties are hoping to meet soon to talk about what Jeffries calls a “crisis right now.” Jeffries said he has spoken with most parties involved such as the West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA), Kanawha County Board of Education and the HHHS principal, and all parties seem to think that FEMA is what is holding up the project.
Ben Ashley, the Director of Architectural Services for SBA, said federal agencies are still reviewing an environmental report required through the site selection process for the schools. He said the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and a number of state agencies have to work with state and local consultants to make sure all the requirements of all the federal agencies are met.
“From the School Building Authority’s perspective, we are making sure that those folks are given every piece of information they need as quickly as possible and as correctly as possible to help them make their decisions,” Ashley said.
“We wish it could be quicker. Unfortunately, in this case, the SBA is not making the rules we are subject to these additional federal regulations.”
The Kanawha County Board of Education said in a tweet Thursday that they are waiting for the environmental reports to be approved by FEMA as well, which according to them is scheduled to happen in March.
According to Jeffries, the environmental reports were submitted months ago. He hopes the reports come back as quickly as possible because the more time that goes by, the more it kills the community.
“Schools are socio-economic drivers,” he said. “Property values in our area and our district are falling. If you’re looking for a place to locate and you find that your high school is a portable building, are you going to move to that area or are you going to move somewhere else where that is an established school.”
Both Jeffries and Ashley said getting ground broken by this spring is critical because if not, it could push back the projects another year.
“Dirt moving is critical and you have to phase it through the summer months and when weather that is ideal,” Ashley said. “We would absolutely love and we will do everything we can to break ground this spring.
“We are subject to these federal regulations and the environmental assessment. We are working as closely and diligently with these folks as we can.”
According to Ashley, the SBA has empowered their architects and engineers to get the building designs ready so when the environmental report is released, they are ready to go. Ashley said once ground is broken a standard timeline for a high school to be completed is 21 months, and 14 months for an elementary school.