BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Board of Education has been making their rounds this week to provide information and seek input regarding their new “vision of the future.”
Upshur County BOE has estimated $70 million will be necessary to execute the construction of a new Buckhannon-Upshur High School, in addition to a complete renovation of the current B-UHS—which is 45 years old—to become the new Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School. Approximately $62 million will be utilized for the construction of the new high school, while $7-9 million will reportedly go towards renovation of the current high school.
The BOE is asking for a $49 million contribution over 15 years from the community through a special bond to bring the plans to fruition. This bond will reportedly cost the average taxpayer approximately $70/year, or $6/month. They will also be providing a calculator on upshurschools.com in the near future for taxpayers to accurately calculate what their contribution towards the bond would be. Treasurer for Upshur County Schools, Jeff Perkins, noted that interest rates are currently low, at approximately .85% to 1.25%. This is significantly low compared to 2011 when they asked for $30 million and interest rates were coming in around 6.5%. Commissioner Sam Nolte commented that these are extremely low interest rates to take advantage of, adding, “That’s a lot of savings.”
If the $49 million is approved locally, the School Building Authority (SBA) is expected to provide an additional $21 million in funding to complete the full scope of this project.
Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus expressed that this project is filled with hope, as “we need something good to look forward to.” She emphasized that herself, assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison and Mr. Perkins are just the messengers—sharing the ideas that the community came up with during their Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) meetings. During these meetings, Upshur County Schools met with the community at every single school in the county, as well as staff, Dr. Stankus added.
As a result, Dr. Stankus said it was evident that the community wanted not just college ready graduates, but career-technical ready if they so choose. “Not all students want to go to college, and that’s okay. There are so many options and careers that make much more money than I am making right now. All of these jobs (electricians, welders, contractors, etc.) have great careers and provide a great living for their families. Why do we keep saying they have to go to a four-year college?” Dr. Stankus articulated.
They are in the process of meeting with businesses and specialists to decide what exact career-technical options will be going in the new B-UHS. However, Dr. Harrison and Dr. Stankus noted that they want these spaces to be adaptable to the needs at the time—so needs of the kids are always being met and will allow for them to be productive members of society upon graduation. For example, for two years, they may want to provide a drone pilot class, but two years after that, they may want to change that to a dental assistant program. There is a lot of discussion about an aerospace curriculum, as well. The ultimate goal is to create 6-8 CTE suites that are designed for the programs the county chooses, but change as needed to meet the needs of the community.
In addition to the CTE and college readiness focus at the new B-UHS, there will also be CTE options for the new B-UMS, that will be relocating to the “old” B-UHS, following complete renovations. Here, middle schoolers will have available agriculture, horticulture, business entrepreneurship, fabrication, etc. “These are the kinds of things our middle school students will have access to,” Dr. Stankus added. If all goes through, Upshur County will be the first in the state to have a career-technical program to this degree in a middle school.
Although it has served the community well—thanks to the many generations before maintaining it so well, as Mr. Perkins pointed out—the current B-UMS is over 100 years old and not energy efficient. The building is becoming burdensome with its high-cost utilities and insufficient space for 900 students. According to Dr. Stankus, the current B-UMS will be given back to the community if the plan goes accordingly. They have already received interest as to what will go in next.
In addition to the emphasis regarding CTE, the community also expressed that they want students to be college ready if they so desire a path towards higher education. Upshur County Schools is already working with Glenville State College and Fairmont State University, and currently in discussions with West Virginia Wesleyan College to create a partnership that will allow students to earn an Associates Degree. If students choose to go on to receive a four-year degree, they can already have two years of general studies under their belt and can focus on their core studies for the remaining years. “We want our students to leave and be college ready or work ready,” Dr. Harrison emphasized.
Commissioner Terry Cutright asked if students would be able to do career-technical, in addition to the associates degree, and Dr. Stankus confirmed that will absolutely be an option for students as well.
With this shift towards CTE, Dr. Stankus wanted to emphasize that they will not be competing with Fred Eberle Technical Center, but instead, working together and collaborating to best meet the needs of the students in their community. B-UHS will be offering additional CTE programs—different than those offered at FETC—which recently received a grant to add an HVAC program in the near future.
Commission President Kristie Tenney wondered if these CTE programs will be offered for adults as well. Dr. Stankus responded, “Our focus is for the students. Of course, we know this building will be available to our adult learners, and that is our goal.”
This new proposed B-UHS will be constructed on the same campus as the current B-UHS. They came to this conclusion from the simple fact that tax payers have already purchased this property for approximately $370,000 in 2009-2010. The property is reportedly comprised of 178 acres. According to Mr. Perkins, there are major benefits to having two schools on one campus. For example, “the safety of a campus is much easier to maintain than at two different schools,” he emphasized. Like previously mentioned, they already own the property and have utilities there.
One concern citizen have is traffic flow, Perkins added. The goal is to replace the current intersection with a roundabout. People will enter through the roundabout, and will have the option to exit here as well, or exit through a new exit location further north. Upshur County Schools continue conversations with the Department of Highways to best execute this and help guide them. Regarding the outdoor sports complexes, these will be shared by both schools, which is essentially already the case. However, at the proposed new B-UHS, two new gyms and practice fields will be created.
There is also a wetlands issue on the proposed grounds of the new school, Mr. Perkins noted. “Our concept is to embrace it and use it as an educational process for students to learn about architectural design and wetlands,” he explained.
Dr. Stankus concluded in saying, “I’m just a messenger. I believe in our community. We have always placed education ahead of a lot of things. Our communities will have the schools they want to have. So, if they choose to want these schools, they’ll come out and vote for that.” The special bond election will take place January 15 and will require a simple majority for it to pass, Dr. Sara Stankus emphasized.
Upshur County Schools will be hosting six more public meetings about the “vision of the future”—more specifically, regarding the new high school and reimagined middle school. The meeting dates and locations are as follows: September 28, Hodgesville Elementary School; October 12, French Creek Elementary School; October 26, Washington District Elementary School; November 16, Buckhannon-Upshur High School; November 30, Buckhannon Academy Elementary School; and December 14, Union Elementary School. These meetings will take place from 5-6 p.m., prior to the regular Board of Education meetings.