SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — Nicholas County School Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick says she’s getting ready for a long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony.
Those preparations are underway because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently gave its final approval for $131 million in federal funds to pay for new schools for the county to replace buildings destroyed in the June 2016 flood.
U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Gov. Jim Justice all announced the FEMA news on Jan. 31. Burge-Tetrick told MetroNews FEMA “pushed the button” on the award the following Monday, Feb. 3.
The flood destroyed Richwood High School, Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School. An approved mediated plan calls for the rebuilding of the two Richwood schools on the property of the existing Cherry River Elementary School. Burge-Tetrick said a “complete makeover” is planned for the Cherry River building. A new Nicholas County Middle School, Nicholas County High School and technical education center will be constructed at the Glade Creek Business Park near Summersville. The state will match the FEMA money with $40 million.
Burge-Tetrick said the next step is to purchase the property at Glade Creek.
“We already own the property at Richwood where the schools will be built. So we won’t have to secure that property but we will have to secure a parking lot for that area but it’s not urgent that I do that right now,” Burge-Tetrick said. “But we do need to purchase the Glade Creek property.”
Burge-Tetrick said her goal is to begin the Glade Creek construction and the Richwood construction at the same time.
“A construction manager has been hired to push the projects along as quickly as possible,” Burge-Tetrick said.
There remains some unrest in the Richwood community about the process and the school replacement plan that received the final approval.
Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, gave a speech on the floor of the House of Delegates last week, expressing thanks for the FEMA funding but at the same time criticizing the Richwood part of the projects.
“We’re going to spend $20 million of the money we get from FEMA to build a K-12 onto an existing elementary school in Richwood,” Hanna said.
He followed his comments up with an op-ed last Friday where he claimed the rebuild project that will include five schools, not three, was a scheme set up by Burge-Tetrick to make consolidation a reality.
Hanna wrote the project “will be forever tainted by the stink of scandal.”
Burge-Tetrick said Hanna is very misinformed.
“When we had the FEMA public meeting in the Richwood area, Caleb Hanna attended and he refused to speak to board members and he refused to speak to me when he was advised we could answer some of his questions,” Burge-Tetrick said.
She said the Richwood schools will be separate schools on the same property.
“The new facilities will be very nice. The mediated agreement has each school retaining their own identity, their own mascot, their own individuality,” Burge-Tetrick said.
Hanna said the situation upsets him.
“If the board of education and the superintendent would have listened to input from the community to start with this wouldn’t be a problem,” Hanna said during his floor speech.
Burge-Tetrick said she doesn’t yet have the exact numbers on how much each school will cost but she maintains the Richwood buildings will meet the needs of the community.
“For the Richwood schools, they were only at 45 to 50 percent usage (at the time of the flood),” Burge-Tetrick said. “This board has listened to community members but there are a few that have been vocal (in opposition).”
Burge-Tetrick said if Nicholas County started the process over again it would take 18 months to reach the point they are now.
“We need to get these schools built and we need to get these students in nice facilities,” Burge-Tetrick said.
The Richwood funding from FEMA put the state over a key damage threshold from the 2016 flood and it could mean instead of a 75/25 reimbursement rate from FEMA for damages it would increase to 90/10. President Donald Trump would have to approve such a change.
In his op-ed, Hanna said that’s probably why Burge-Tetrick’s plan got so much support from state leaders.
Meanwhile, Burge-Tetrick hopes to break ground on the new schools within six to eight weeks and she’s already putting together a list of those who will be invited to the groundbreaking ceremony.
“We had a lot of support along the way and I’m very thankful for that. We’re ready. We’re ready to start building schools. The handful of people who say the board was not listening to them are few and far between,” she said.