OAK HILL — More than 100 citizens packed into a garage refurbished as a joint cafeteria and gymnasium at Collins Middle School Thursday to hear from students who were directly affected when three of five campus structures were condemned earlier this year.

New River Elementary fourth grader Ethan Thomas said he used to attend gifted class at Collins Middle. He and his classmates will leave a new building to attend Collins next year, he explained.

“Our buildings are falling in around us and we are actually arguing about funding for a new one. You are making us feel like we don’t even matter. We are your future. We are counting on you to be our voice,” he said.

Collins student Carsyn Harris shared her day-to-day experience. Many fifth and sixth grade students used to attend classes in the main building, but today are crammed into the back building. She said without enough lockers, students must carry jackets, lunch boxes, books and book bags with them at all times.

“We are all stuck in a smelly, overcrowded building and lack access to many classes we all once enjoyed. We have lost friends relocated to other buildings in the county. My entire middle school experience is gone,” she said.

Collins band teacher Evangeline Bickford said she travels between Collins, Oak Hill and Fayetteville each day to teach the displaced Collins band students. Despite being split among schools, the band had a perfect “superior” score at a state band rating last month.

Kim Pernell, parent of three, asked everyone to stop listening to respond and start listening to understand.

“We can’t have all our needs met immediately. The bond does not please everyone, but it has been 40-some years. We have to start somewhere. After we pass this we will have to fight for the other schools,” she said.

If the bond does not pass, she plans to transfer to another area.

“It’s not going to get better if we divide ourselves,” added Felicia Schrader

“Meadow Bridge has been fighting so long for their school. My hat’s off to them, but now it is our time to fight — Fayette County’s time,” said Chris Robinson. “They (the children) are worth every single penny.”

Those elected officials present were asked to state if they were in support of or against the bond.

Fayette Board President Steve Bush, member Leon Ivey and County Assessor Eddie Young all expressed their support.

“There have already been sacrifices in every community, and we will keep making sacrifices to get our children a better future,” Ivey said, noting that no child in the county will have longer bus rides than students who already ride from Pax to Oak Hill and Beards Fork to New River Elementary.

Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, said she was in the last graduating class of Mount Hope High School and saw increased opportunities in academics and extracurricular activities after the students merged to Oak Hill High.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said he would stay neutral because the bond is a “divisive issue.”

He said some residents have taken issue with comments about Mount Hope not deserving an elementary, but he said if the bond passes, other areas will be told they don’t deserve schools.

Both Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, and Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, said they supported the bond at a Fayette County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday.

The next community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on May 7 at Meadow Bridge High School.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer

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