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New schools to welcome Putnam students

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Class starts in schools across Putnam County today, and many of the doors that are opening in Winfield and Poca are as new as the school year.

Many of the county school's construction projects, including the new Poca Middle School, Poca Elementary School, Winfield Middle School and Winfield Elementary School, are ready to welcome students in time for the 2013-14 school year -- something Putnam County Schools Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said he believes is a huge step for the county's schools.

 "We've done, and have been doing, very well academically. We've been recognized for a lot of good things, but quite frankly, our facilities were lagging," Hatfield said. "We were in pretty bad shape. As good as we have been, and as progressive as we have been, our facilities were in dire need."

The two Poca school projects were funded through the school bond passed in 2009, which generated $57 million. The new Poca Middle School building, which has been finished since spring, was home to Poca Elementary School students while the nearby elementary school was renovated.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students were moved into the new facility at the end of last year. Sixth-graders stayed in the old Poca Middle School while the new school's annex was completed.

Both schools have been finished and connected, and the school system plans to build a parking lot on the site of the old Poca Middle School, which was built in 1927 and torn down late last month.

The new Winfield Middle School, an 83,000-square-foot building, was funded through the state School Building Authority, which agreed to spend $21.7 million on the condition that the school system was able to pass the 2009 school bond. It is behind schedule because of problems with the soil on the property, according to Brad Hodges, assistant superintendent for administrative services.

Still, the three-story classroom wing is complete, and the project should be finished by August 2014.

"We're in a unique situation. There are not many communities you can see where nearly everybody's on the same page, going in the same direction, and we have that here," Hatfield said. "Our parents are very supportive, our community is very supportive, our government agencies are very supportive, and we have one goal in mind in providing the best education we can for the kids in Putnam County."

Before the 2009 bond, Putnam voters last passed a school bond in 1976, and the school system had not constructed a school since Winfield High School opened its doors in 1980.

Like Winfield Middle, the remaining work at Winfield Elementary is expected to be finished by August 2014. The renovations, which Hodges said were extensive, include 14 new classrooms, a media center, a computer lab and administrative offices.

"It's been a face-lift on the outside of the building as well as the interior," said Winfield Elementary Principal Tammy Dill. "Our cafeteria has been enlarged, our kitchen has been enlarged. The renovations are absolutely beautiful and should enhance the learning environment and functionality of the school for the children."

The elementary school's improvements cost roughly $9 million; $6.2 million of the funding came from the SBA and the rest by way of normal county money, Hodges said.

Through bond funding, Putnam County Schools also has constructed the new Confidence Elementary School and Buffalo High School, and has built a 3,800-square-foot gymnasium for Winfield Elementary, as well as auxiliary gymnasiums for its three other high schools. Hatfield said the school system was able to stretch the bond funding to include the construction of locker rooms for each new gym.

Hatfield said the decision on which schools to replace and renovate was based on the county's Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, which the school board reviews every 10 years.

"It's a living, breathing document we work from, and it's based on what we feel are our greatest needs, regardless of where they are -- whether they're in Hurricane, Buffalo, Winfield or Poca," he said. "It's truly based on the need we see."

Each school in the county also receives extensive summer renovations, and schools are cycled through a schedule to be painted, retiled and improved periodically, Hatfield said.

"With the completion of these projects, Putnam County will have some of the best facilities in the state," Hodges said.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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