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Groundbreaking held for Jefferson Co. school

June 18, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

"I'm suspicious," Jefferson County Board of Education member Alan Sturm said, and then paused as he looked over a crowd gathered Saturday morning along Huyett Road.

Delivering his punch line, Sturm said, "I have a hunch somebody came and broke ground before we came here."

Indeed, well before six people wielding gold-painted shovels overturned a couple of spades of earth, heavy construction equipment has been working at the site of Jefferson County's new planned high school.

The school is being built with money from the state School Building Authority, a state economic development grant, impact fees and a voter-approved $19 million bond.

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It will be on a parcel of land next to the Huntfield development off U.S. 340 south of Charles Town. Officials with Huntfield donated the acreage.

During an official 30-minute groundbreaking ceremony, members of the Cougar Band played three songs, including the national anthem, and several speakers addressed a crowd about the planned high school, which will include a science and technology center that can be used by students and adults.

The final bid for the project came in at nearly $38 million, with Board of Education President Lori Stilley saying she hopes the school will open in December 2007.

Others put the likely opening date at around two years away.

"This is just a landmark day," Stilley said before the ceremony began.

The county currently has only one high school, and has battled overcrowding within it for years. With no room in the existing high school for ninth-graders, they attend classes in a separate building across the street from the school, which is on Flowing Springs Road between Charles Town and Shepherdstown.

That high school, which was built more than 30 years ago, will be renovated to put it on par with the new school, school officials have said.

Stilley said she hopes the science and technology center in the new high school will help spur economic development as well as keep the county's most precious resource - its children - in West Virginia. The center will focus on digital printing, high-tech learning and biotechnology, she said.

Standing in the hot sun and wearing sunglasses, Stilley shrugged off any suggestion that the day was bittersweet given that, last month, she lost her bid for re-election.

"It's a sweet day," Stilley said. "This Board of Education has done nothing but work hard for the children."

One of her children will be an eighth-grader this fall, she told the crowd after the shovel ceremony.

"I'm anxious for her to attend this new school," Stilley said.

Board member Delores Milstead also bantered with the crowd.

"That was great fun, and it's a better shovel that I have for my garden," she said, followed by a hint that she hopes she will be allowed to keep it as a memento.

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