CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers asked questions today about the reconstruction of schools that were destroyed in the 2016 flood.
The 2016 flood destroyed Herbert Hoover High School and Clendenin Elementary in Kanawha County. In Nicholas County, Richwood High School, Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School were considered destroyed.
None have yet been rebuilt.
Nicholas County and state officials have been working on plans to rebuild Richwood High and Middle at the current location of Cherry River Elementary while also rebuilding Summersville Middle and Nicholas County High, which continues to serve students, at Glade Creek Business Park.
A resolution for land acquisition was approved last month for Herbert Hoover High, which is still in environmental and architectural processes. Clendenin Elementary wrapped up environmental studies and will be moving into the community comment period.
Officials with the state School Building Authority talked about progress on the schools in front of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.
“Kanawha County is tracking very well, especially with Clendenin,” said Ben Ashley, director of architectural services for the School Building Authority.
Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, asked a series of questions about the situation in Nicholas County, which has been controversial.
Richwood residents have wanted to know why Richwood High School was demolished after the flood. They have also been skeptical of the rebuilding plan that includes a new Nicholas County High School, which was not destroyed by flooding.
“Did anybody from the SBA tour the original high school facility after it was cleaned?” Hanna asked.
The response was yes. But then Hanna followed up.
“What about after it was cleaned? The county board had it cleaned,” he said.
That answer was no.
“What prompted such a quick demolition?” Hanna asked.
Ashley said that was not an SBA decision but that the county and the architect termed the school substantially damaged. “It was determined not suitable for current and future use,” Ashley said.
Then Hanna asked whether School Building Authority officials are aware of any investigation of the demolition of Richwood High by the FBI or the federal Office of Inspector General.
“Not that we’re aware of,” Ashley said.
A federal investigation of flood relief has been confirmed, but that aspect has not been specified.
David Roach, the executive director of the School Building Authority, then stepped forward.
“Those kinds of questions we’re unable to answer; we have no clue and we choose not to be involved with those,” Roach said.
Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, spoke up shortly after that. Boso is president of an engineering firm and a general contractor in Summersville.
Referring to the decision to demolish Richwood High, Boso said architects are under certain professional obligations.
He said they “they take very specific care in evaluating whether there is a substantial risk for life, safety and health. If there is a substantial risk, they have an obligation to advise the owner with regard to that particular risk.”