Groundbreakings mark official start of school construction in Nicholas County

NICHOLAS COUNTY, W.Va. — Nearly four years after the storms that washed away parts of communities in central and southeastern West Virginia, work is officially underway on replacements for the school buildings destroyed in Nicholas County in the June 2016 Flood.

“Here’s to our future generations,” Dr. Donna Burge-Tetrick, superintendent of schools in Nicholas County, said as more than a dozen local, county and state officials ceremonially turned dirt at Cherry River Elementary School during the first of two groundbreaking ceremonies on Monday.

Dr. Donna Burge-Tetrick

The ceremonies were shown on Facebook to comply with social distancing guidelines in the coronavirus pandemic.

Cherry River was slated to be “extensively remodeled” on the same property that was also to be used for a new Richwood High School and new Richwood Middle School, a planned “community school” serving pre-kindergarten through 12th grades.

Glade Creek Business Park was the site of Monday’s second groundbreaking ceremony, the planned site for a “comprehensive school site” with Nicholas County High School and Summersville Middle School for grades 6-12.

The Nicholas County Career and Technical Education Center was also to be located at Glade Creek, though vocational programs would be available at Richwood High too.

Plans called for Summersville Elementary School to eventually be at the current Nicholas County High School following upgrades once students at Nicholas High moved to Glade Creek.

The schools destroyed in the June 23, 2016 flooding were Richwood High, Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle.

Since the flood, students from those schools have been attending classes in temporary classrooms, including at Cherry River.

After the renovations, “I have a 196 students in my building that aren’t going to be eating in the same place that they participate in gym. They’re going to have bathrooms in special education classrooms. They’re going to have a community career center within the school,” said Laura Young, principal at Cherry River Elementary.

“What this is going to do for my students is tremendous.”

The comprehensive school plan for Nicholas County, utilizing a federal funding option for reconfiguration, came out of mediation which followed a lawsuit challenging an original school plan that included no rebuilds in Richwood.

Multiple agencies have been involved in the extensive school planning process including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Education, the state School Building Authority, the Nicholas County Board of Education and others.

In January, the FEMA approved $131 million for the school projects in Nicholas County.

FEMA is covering 90 percent of the construction costs.

“It’s time now to move on, complete these projects and get our students into new state-of-the-art facilities that they deserve and will enhance the educational lives of Nicholas County students for many years to come,” said Gus Penix, president of the Nicholas County Board of Education.

“The citizens of Nicholas County will be very proud of these facilities and they will not only meet the needs of the students, but serve the many and varied activities of the community as well. This is truly a great day for all Nicholas County citizens.”

Altogether, the school projects cover rebuilds or renovations for half of the 14 schools in Nicholas County.

“These schools will create an environment that allows teachers to flexible by providing modern learning spaces for our students,” Dr. Burge-Tetrick said.

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