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$39 million school bond defeated in Fayette County

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — Fayette County voters soundly defeated a $39 million bond referendum aimed at financing new school construction and renovating other existing campuses.

About 61.9 percent of voters opposed the bond call Saturday.

With 39 precincts turning out to vote, 4,662 ballots rejected the measure and 2,870 supported it.

Should the bond have passed, the $39 million–along with an expected $25 million from the state School Building Authority– would have been used to build a new elementary school in Mount Hope, a new middle school in Oak Hill, while renovating Midland Trail, Oak Hill and Valley high schools.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Serena Starcher said Fayette County doesn’t have the students to support five high schools.

“We have a large number of high schools for our student population,” she said.

Starcher said Harrison County has the same number of high schools, but has a significantly larger student population and approximately 25,000 more residents. She also said Kanawha County is about four times the size in terms of student population, and only has eight high schools.

Starcher said the Fayette County Board of Education will now look at other avenues to consolidate high schools.

“We’ll possibly consider closing some high schools without a bond–fitting the students in where they’ll fit,” she said. “But we’ll start looking at that soon.”

Lifelong Fayette County resident Jim Murdock Jr. agreed there are issues with the structural integrity of the schools and a need for consolidation in some form. He said those issues require serious attention, but that this wasn’t the right way to do it.

“I was against this bond,” he said. “I’m not against the bond totally, but I was against this bond.”

Murdock Jr. said he attended nearly every public meeting held during the period leading up to the election, and that his ideas were well received when he chose to comment publicly.

“I had two or three ovations so I guess they accepted me pretty good, which was good for Meadow Bridge and Fayetteville,” said Murdock Jr.

More than 60 percent of voters seemed to agree with Murdock Jr., and he’d like to see a hard look at other possible solutions.

“There’s a lot of other people around the county that want to talk,” he said. “And we’re going to get together as a county, and we’re going to make this thing work.”

Dr. Starcher said she’s not sure what it will take to get a bond passed in Fayette County after failed attempts in 2001, 2009, and now 2015.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I’m really not sure at this point in time what would be palatable for the citizens of Fayette County in terms of a bond.”

One of the driving forces behind the opposition came from community members in Meadow Bridge and Fayetteville, where the current high schools would have been closed if the bond passed.

School bond issues historically do not fare well in Fayette County, where the last one passed in 1973.

The school board proposed the measure after structural issues forced Collins Middle School in Oak Hill to close. It is Fayette County’s largest school with approximately 875 students.

Canvassing for the vote is scheduled to take place June 22.

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