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New Edgewood school gets another $1 million from state agency

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County is getting an additional $1 million in state funds to finish building the new elementary school near Edgewood Country Club.

On Monday, the state School Building Authority voted to help Kanawha County close a $2.8 million budget gap to complete its "school of the future" on Charleston's West Side.

"This will be a major boost for the West Side," said Ron Duerring, superintendent of Kanawha County schools. "This project has been a labor of love."

The School Building Authority initially gave Kanawha County $8.84 million in 2010 to fund the project, with Kanawha County officials saying they would devote $3.77 million in local funds.

But costs for the school project, which were initially pegged at $12.5 million, have skyrocketed after pushback from area residents relocated the project to its current hilly site.

It has cost more than $6.5 million alone to clear trees, move land and build an access road up to the site of the school before anything has been built.

The total project is now estimated at $21 million. Kanawha County schools will contribute roughly $11 million to build the new school, with the SBA devoting more than $9 million.

The school system settled on the current Edgewood site for the new school after it scuttled plans to build the school at Cato Park. Some residents near the park worried about flooding and increased traffic, and those concerns stalled the Cato plans until school board members scrapped them altogether.

Kanawha County is shouldering more than half of the project's cost, but SBA members openly berated Kanawha school board members for capping a county excess levy earlier this year that could have covered the additional project cost.

SBA member Tom Lange, who voted against the project on Monday, said the Kanawha County school board massively miscalculated when it capped a local excess levy at $44 million a year several months ago.

"They're the only county in the state that has capped the amount of dollars they receive from the excess levy," said Lange. "I have huge concerns. [Kanawha County] has a lot of problems and little resources because board members capped it. In my view, you're sticking it to the rest of the state. You need this million, but so do folks in Roane and Ritchie."

Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County school board, called Lange's rebuke "outrageous."

"I didn't think we'd get a browbeating for being fiscally responsible," said Thaw. "I never heard a county being criticized for not beating its taxpayers into the ground like stakes."

In January, the Kanawha County school board unanimously voted to cap a five-year excess levy -- a property tax to fund schools beyond the state's school-aid funding formula - at $44 million a year.

That decision cost the cost Kanawha County schools $28 million a year in lost annual levy revenue, according to Joe Panetta, superintendent of finance for the state Department of Education.

The new West Side school will occupy more than 53,000 square feet and is designed specifically around a curriculum focused on project-based learning and Internet-based tools. School officials expect the project to be completed by the fall of 2014.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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