CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The newest experiment in public education is in its early phases for two state counties. That experiment includes the building of a brand new facility that will house the consolidation of two elementary schools, but this experiment is testing more than just new efficiencies. It's testing how well county school systems can work together to support a common goal: providing a quality education.
Leading Creek Elementary School is not your typical consolidation. The school will take students from Troy Elementary in Gilmer County and Alum Bridge Elementary in Lewis County -- about 225 total -- and put them in one building, a brand-new $11 million facility that literally straddles the county line.
"The line goes smack dab through the middle of that site so when you put the school there, we'll put it on both sides. So, you can't get any better relationship, you can't get anything better than the school literally sitting in both counties," Mark Manchin, executive director of the state School Building Authority, told members of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration last week.
The commission, created by the state Board of Education, is tasked with finding ways counties can begin to work together regionally to provide a more efficient, effective education for its students, which Manchin said is exactly what this new project is doing.
By combining the two schools, which now sit only miles apart, Manchin said, the project saves the state money by preventing them from having to build two small schools in the same area, but, maybe more importantly, also gets kids out of unsafe buildings. Buildings, Manchin said, that were in such poor condition they were literally on the verge of being condemned.
That's what SBA Director of Architectural Services Scott Raines believed acted as the catalyst to get these two counties to think differently about how they provide a quality education.
"In my nine years I've probably visited more than 50 percent of the schools in the entire state and these two buildings were the worst facilities that I've ever stepped foot in. So, each county realized, one, we can't afford to keep these small buildings open and to operate and maintain them with our current budget so we have to do something," Raines said at the commission meeting.
"They also realized these were the worst schools in the state. They're falling down, they're getting condemned; we have to do something there as well," Raines said. "The limited amount of funds that are at the SBA and at the state and local level, we can't build a $10 or $11 million school in each area."
So, with the idea and the funding in place -- $11 million approved and provided by the SBA in April of last year -- Manchin, along with lead architect Ted Shriver of the firm Williamson Shriver Architects in Charleston, had to come up with a plan of action.
Shriver began by holding community meetings and creating an advisory council made up of both Lewis and Gilmer counties' superintendents, educators and community leaders.
That council had an input on things such as the school's name, colors and motto as well as design ideas. For instance, the council chose to have a full art studio and music room instead of a library, as Shriver explained.