Justice joins West Virginia School Building Authority to award 19 school districts most construction funding in 12 years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than $111.8 million is going toward 19 school districts in West Virginia for school construction projects. It’s the most funding awarded by the state School Building Authority since 2011.

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice chaired the SBA meeting Monday morning where he made the funding announcement at the state Lottery Headquarters building in Charleston.

“This sends a clear message that we’re dedicated to our kids,” Justice told SBA members and school superintendents from across the state.

The SBA’s NEEDs grant funding for 2023 went toward the following counties: Berkeley ($25 million), Wood ($27.9 million), Wyoming ($15.7 million), Fayette ($15.6 million), Taylor ($7.3 million), Marshall ($9.2 million), Harrison ($5.8 million), Grant ($4.7 million), Jackson ($13.5 million), Greenbrier ($6.7 million), Mason ($1.2 million), Logan ($3 million), Randolph ($2.3 million), Calhoun ($4.8 million), Morgan ($4.2 million), Hancock ($987,000), Gilmer ($724,000), Tucker ($8.3 million) and Barbour ($1.6 million).

Berkeley County Schools received among the highest amount of funding in the state. Superintendent Ron Stephens told MetroNews they’ll use the $25 million they were awarded toward a new K-2 primary school and a new K-2/3-5 primary/intermediate school. The funds will be used in partnership with a local bond contribution of $41.5 million for a total project cost of $66.5 million.

“That will be used to help us build our infrastructure and build elementary schools in the Eastern Panhandle that, when we build, will most likely be filled when we open them,” he said.

Stephens said the need for new schools is crucial as Berkeley County’s population continues to grow.

“These are going to be brand new facilities. We’re not closing any schools to open them. It’s because of the number of students that are transferring. Berkeley County is now the second largest district in the state and is approaching 20,000 students. We’re bursting at the seams,” he said.

Fayette County Schools also secured a high funding amount of $15.6 million from the SBA to build a new Midland Trail Elementary. It’s the last project that needed funding as part of the district’s rebuild which began nearly a decade ago.

Monday’s decisions were impacted by an October decision where the SBA approved a 46 percent increase in square footage allowance on school construction projects. The change increases elementary schools’ costs per square foot from $307 to $447, Pre-K-8 schools from $305 to $445, middle schools from $302 to $442, and high schools from $300 to $440.

The previous allowance cost was just more than $300 per square foot.

In the last two years the SBA has had to add money to a number of projects because the original amount of money awarded wasn’t enough due to inflation and other factors. Justice told reporters after Monday’s meeting construction costs in West Virginia are still high.

“Everything has gone up,” the governor said. “I hate to say this and this sound political, but the Biden administration has got us on a chaos pathway, so with all that being said, construction dollars are not going as far, but we’ll still do the very best we can.”

Ron Stephens

The governor said while the funding will go toward major infrastructure improvements, he hopes those changes include security upgrades at schools.

“We want our schools to be so safe it’s off the charts, but every day we awaken to some level of news somewhere that’s tragic,” he said. “We are aware of that and we’re trying to do anything and everything we can.”

Justice said the state is also in a good place, financially, do help rebuild schools and serve students and their families statewide.

“I’m the guy that walked in on Day 1 and said ‘make education our centerpiece.’ To do $111 million in West Virginia? This is not opening a Taco Bell. This is the real deal. We’ve been able to do all this because we’ve got our state on the right path,” Justice said.

SBA members heard presentations from 27 counties last month.

For a full list of project proposals, CLICK HERE.

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