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Kanawha school officials unsure of John Adams funding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County School officials fear they'll have to contribute more money than they intended for an expansion of the long-overcrowded John Adams Middle School, after they say a private donor has not followed through with a $250,000 commitment.

Allen Bell, a contractor who developed The Ridges in South Charleston, pledged to help raise the additional funding needed to complete renovations at John Adams Middle School after Kanawha officials were awarded less state funding than they'd hoped for the project.

Kanawha County had requested $1 million from the state School Building Authority for the addition in December, but received only $750,000. The school board committed $130,000 to the project in local funds, but said the remaining amount -- about $250,000 -- would come from community members who offered to come up with private funding.

"That guy didn't come up with a nickel," school board President Pete Thaw said about Bell. "He promised $250,000, and he came up with nothing."

The school board approved plans to move ahead with the project, which will add four classrooms to John Adams, at a board meeting on Thursday.

John Adams currently has the highest enrollment of any middle school in the county and has to use seven outdoor portable classrooms to house students. Charleston-based architecture firm ZMM Inc. plans to have the addition completed by May 2014.

The expansion is crucial to ease the congestion of South Hills area schools, and the school board does not want to pay to build any more high schools, Thaw said.

The school board has gone back and forth for months debating whether to redistrict attendance zones in an attempt to lessen the overcrowding at George Washington High School, which has some of the highest test scores in the state, and its surrounding feeder schools.

"John Adams is the key. It's the feeder for GW ...," Thaw said. "You know how much trouble we're in up there anyway."

Superintendent Ron Duerring said that if Bell, who had initially offered to front up to $1 million for the project, doesn't come through, they'll have to take the money from the school system's permanent improvement fund, which is typically used for emergencies.

Attempts to reach Bell Thursday night were unsuccessful.

"We're committed to the project, and we're still waiting to hear. If not, we'll have to take away from some other line item that will hurt [the budget,]" Duerring said. "[Bell] did not come through, but we're still holding him accountable. He offered, and we would like to see him come forward."

The financially strapped school board already pulled nearly $2 million from its permanent improvement fund to help support the Kanawha County Public Library.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school board, nixing a law that mandated the school system give a portion of its budget to libraries each year. The school board committed $1.9 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year to help the library make the transition.

"We always leave several million in [the permanent improvement fund] for if something like an HVAC system would break," Duerring said. "You're talking $1 or $2 million for an emergency like that."

While the project will rid John Adams of its portable classrooms, it still won't cure the school of its overcrowding problem, officials said.

"This should help relieve some of the overcrowding, but JA still needs more work. We would've liked to have had more money and built more classrooms," said Chuck Wilson, the school system's facilities director.

Also at Thursday's school board meeting, school officials wished Deputy Superintendent Joe Godish a happy retirement after serving Kanawha County Schools for more than 40 years.

"It's really not about me, it's about the fantastic staff, parental support and school board," he said. "As I look at the whole educational system, it really takes everybody to work with kids, and I think we've hit it right many times."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 


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