Duncan Slade Published

Board of Education Approves School Closures, Mergers In 4 Counties

Welch Elementary

The West Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve the closing and consolidation of schools in four counties.

Board members acknowledged the difficulties of school closings but applauded the work of county superintendents in formulating and promoting each plan.

Next, counties will seek funding from the School Building Authority to pay for the proposed school improvements.

Here are the changes and the counties’ reasoning.

Kanawha County

Cedar Grove Middle School would close and its students would start attending Dupont Middle School.

In their proposal, Kanawha County Schools officials cite decreasing population and student enrollment as well as the age of the Cedar Grove facility. They also say the merger would lead to a better education experience for students.

For the last decade, the county has seen its population decline by almost 15,000 people and there is no sign of this trend changing, according to U.S. Census Bureau data and projection. The number of deaths has been higher than the number of births in Kanawha County as well as thousands of people choosing to move out of state.

At Cedar Grove Middle, enrollment has declined by 18 percent over the last decade, from 194 students in 2010 to 156 students this year. County-wide, there has been a 6.3% decline in student enrollment over the last decade. Projections show both downward trends continuing.

Cedar Grove Middle has $8.3 million in needed improvements if the school is not closed. An engineering analysis included in the county proposal almost half that at $4.2 million to improve Dupont Middle to accommodate the consolidation and new students.

According to the written proposal for the change, it would provide better programming for special needs students and have lower student-teacher ratios in both core classes and the arts.

McDowell County

In McDowell County, the school board plans to close Fall River Elementary School, Kimball Elementary School, and Welch Elementary School. Before three schools would be consolidated, a new facility would need to be funded and built.

Like most of the state, McDowell County has seen a steady decline in student enrollment and population. Over the last decade, the county has lost 4,000 residents and is projected to lose another 2,000 in the next decade. With current birth and death rates, these downward trends are expected to continue.

Additionally, the county plan said it would be cheaper to operate one school as opposed to three. The current trio of schools is being utilized at between 23% and 34% of capacity. The consolidated elementary school would be at 85% capacity.

Under the proposal, busing would also be consolidated. Bus runs would be reduced from 26 runs to 13 runs as the need for transfer buses would be eliminated. Just under half of the bus routes would be the same time or shorter while the other half would be longer.

One of the three elementary schools, Fall River Elementary, would be repurposed to house the McDowell County Career and Technical Center (CTC). The county says repairs to the elementary school building would be cheaper than repairing the current CTC building.

Mineral County

The proposed changes in Mineral County are similar to McDowell with three schools becoming one as Frankfort Intermediate School, Fort Ashby Primary School, and Wiley Ford Primary School would become a new district primary school.

Mineral County Schools cites three main reasons for the change: aging facilities, current grade configurations, and projected improvements for students.

Currently, students attend either Fort Ashby or Wiley Ford through second grade before attending Frankfort Intermediate for third and fourth grade. The new school would keep students under one roof from Pre-K through fourth grade.

The proposed state-of-the-art facility would provide additional education opportunities through a STEAM lab, dedicated cafeteria, gymnasium, and music room.

At the three current schools, enrollment has decreased by 3.6% over the last decade and is not expected to increase. The county’s population is also declining and projected to keep declining.

The county says accessibility for disabled students would improve, with the new school being wheelchair accessible (two of the old schools are not), and having many aspects designed with physically disabled students in mind.

Wayne County

The plan laid out by Wayne County Schools would combine two schools across the street from each other just south of Huntington.

Buffalo Elementary would close and merge with Buffalo Middle into a new Pre-K through eighth-grade school as enrollment and population projections show a continued decline for the next decade.

Buffalo Elementary currently has “severe water issues” during significant weather events, according to the proposal.

The new facility will have a STEM program and several partnerships with nearby colleges and an airfield to involve students in the aerospace field. The county says the additional space would also better provide for special needs students with classrooms with connected bathrooms and crisis prevention areas not present in the current facility.

Officials said both buildings are also under-utilized and it would be more efficient to combine them. The middle school is only using 57% of its space while 85% is recommended.