Schools leader addresses construction, other issues

July 13, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: The Herald-Mail periodically sits down with Tri-State community leaders for question-and-answer sessions about issues of local interest. Staff writer Julie E. Greene recently spoke with Steven Nichols, superintendent of schools in Jefferson County, W.Va. The answers have been edited slightly for space and clarity.

Q. During the redistricting process in March you said the state of West Virginia has been "very difficult" to work with in getting more money for school construction and estimated Jefferson County is about 10 years behind in building the schools it needs. What is the funding plan to build a second high school and what is the time frame to have that money in place and to begin construction?

A. Well, the first part of the money is in the land that it will sit on. We own, now, about 60 acres of land. With improvements we estimate it to be worth somewhere around $4 million. We also have been given an Economic Development Commission grant for $6 million. Either that's tied up in court or we've been assured by the governor on down that we will get that money. We also will be going to the voters for a bond in May of '04, very likely - and this is all very soft numbers at this point - but somewhere around $19 million. And the remainder of our needs, which will be about $15 to $19 million, will come from the school building authority. So, the plans are in place. We are to the point now where everything that can be done, has been done, short of - if somebody gives me a check we can start tomorrow. Everything has been done, we're ready to go.


Q. When does the School Board plan to submit a proposal for funding for a new high school to the School Building Authority?

A. We go back - the next funding cycle is in December of this year. We'll go to Charleston, I'll make the presentation, the funding to be awarded in March with the money available July 1, '04.

Q. Do you think a special election on a school bond for a second high school should be held this year to show the state the School Board is committed to funding the school or are you going to wait until May when an election is already scheduled?

A. Well, we're going to wait, only because there are several issues, the first being special elections are very expensive and I'm very aware of how expensive they are and I'm not about to waste taxpayers' money. It's not going to make that much difference. The money - the SBA - we can't get it until July of next year anyway, so what we are hoping is the SBA in December would agree to funding contingent on passing a bond. And I feel that with the plan we will lay out to the voters that support of the bond is very possible.

Q. How do you expect to get local taxpayers to support it?

A. I think everyone now realizes the great need in this county for a new high school. I think the public realizes that building is now the largest high school in the state of West Virginia. If you add the ninth grade - which, of course, happens to be in another building right across the street - but when you add nine through 12 in this county, we're talking over 2,200 children. It's much too large. It brings with it decreased educational offerings, and we have the issue of kids just being on top of kids. There's just no room.

You have to remember, to understand how bad it really is, the building was built in '73 for 900 kids. So, the cafeteria is for 900; the library, 900; the hallways, 900. You put 1,700 to 2,200 kids in there, you've got a problem. And we have done just about all we can do. We have kids going outdoors to go around the building to get to class. We have them changing almost in shifts. It's just absolutely we've stretched it as far as we can stretch.

And then too, the building, quite honestly - that old, it's almost 30 years old - and it's starting to show its age. We have to renovate that building. We have to have a second one because our vision to split them in half, so that we're looking at a high school of around a thousand young people, which would be very reasonable. And both schools - when the old building is renovated, it will be comparable in every way to the new building. We're going to put about $12 million into the old building to bring it completely up to par with the new building.

Q. If the School Board gets money for a new school from the state government, do you think the School Board will still ask the Jefferson County Commissioners to impose impact fees?

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