The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

May 26, 2014

Official: County school system can’t support large number of facilities

FAYETTEVILLE — The abundant cracks and leaks in some of Fayette County’s aging school facilities fell victim to spring’s heavy rains this month, and Ron Cantley, Fayette Board of Education’s operations director, said that patch jobs and short-term fixes aren’t going to do the job in the long run.

Leaky roofs, old coal boilers, failing windows and old furnishings are among a few of the many issues plaguing several aging school facilities in Fayette County.

With the average Fayette school age topping a half-century old, the list of large maintenance projects only continues to grow, and the budget just can’t keep up, Cantley said.

Most recently, Collins Middle School’s gym flooded. The estimated cost to repair the roof is $870,000, which would eat up more than 70 percent of the county’s entire yearly maintenance budget of $1.2 million, Cantley said.

“The other big (roof) item that I have, Fayette Institute of Technology, is $657,000,” said Cantley. “Just those two roofs alone, in one year, would exceed our entire maintenance budget.”

Cantley said that on the county’s current course, it will be impossible to catch up with all the necessary facility upgrades.

“The main reason Fayette County has problems like this has been our collective inability to make the big decisions regarding the number of schools that we have,” said Cantley.

“People ask where the money has gone over the decades,” said Cantley. “Fayette County has been investing millions of dollars into maintenance inefficiencies.

“The delay in closure of schools sent money into buildings that ultimately had to close anyway due to declining enrollment.”

Cantley said that people can argue all day long for or against the educational outcomes resulting from consolidation, but he asserts that the fundamental issue lies in the county’s inability to support the large number of facilities.

“This is one thing that is not debatable at all,” said Cantley; “the number of schools we have in relationship to our population exceeds our ability to maintain them.”

Fayette has 10 elementary schools, two middle schools, five high schools and one vocational school.

Aside from Kanawha, no county in the state has more high schools than Fayette County, Cantley said.

Compared to neighboring Raleigh County, which boasts a student population of approximately 12,000 students and four high schools, Fayette has roughly 5,000 fewer students and an additional high school facility.

Cantley insists that the number of ongoing maintenance problems is not due to inefficiency or incompetence on the part of his 12-man crew. Since April 1, the maintenance department has closed 426 work orders.

“Unfortunately, most of those work orders represent items of minor repair, daily tasks or patching failing systems such as roofs,” said Cantley. “That doesn’t get you to sustainable progress. You’re just putting out fires, reacting to problems or doing daily tasks, while the big problems remain unsolved.”

Cantley said that the trend of aging facilities and inadequate funding will continue to plague the county as long as the “absence of actionable political consensus” continues among  the county’s citizens, board of education, political leadership and state board of education.

Meanwhile, Meadow Bridge High School, Ansted Middle and Ansted Elementary are still depending on old coal boilers for heat, which Cantley said are also on the short list of necessary upgrades.

“The problem is that it’s getting hard to find replacement parts for the boilers and it’s getting hard to find coal.”

The county just shelled out $896,400 to replace a coal boiler at Divide Elementary, which Cantley said is just about finished.

“When I started four years ago, I felt like we were out of time with our facilities. What we’ve been doing is slowing the rate of decline. We’ve been generating efficiencies and adding dollars to the system, but we still haven’t gotten to a level of sustainability.”

Cantley said that he believes that consolidation at the high school level will be beneficial for the county.

“We don’t just make money decisions, because our bottom line isn’t the balance sheet; the bottom line, and it’s hard to quantify, is how much did the kid learn?”

Cantley cited Fayette County’s closure of Danese Elementary, Mount Hope High and Nuttall Middle as “recent examples of consolidation that went well in our county.”

 The students were absorbed into Oak Hill High School, Ansted and Collins middle schools and Meadow Bridge, Divide and Ansted elementary schools.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have to work with.”

This summer, the county will be using local dollars to replace roofs at Divide and Rosedale elementary schools and the centralized computer area at the Fayette BOE’s central office. Those projects will total more than $400,000.

The county also has a contract with Tri-State Roofing for $11,000 to put another patch on Collin’s Middle School’s roof.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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