CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In November, workmen will begin laying the foundation of Leading Creek Elementary School -- a school that will serve as the foundation for the future of West Virginia's educational landscape, one that "blurs the lines" between county school systems.
"If there's a way we can expand our money, make it go further, expand our operations and create more effective operations, it's to look between county lines," said Mark Manchin, executive director of the state's School Building Authority.
Leading Creek, a 35,762-square-foot facility that will enroll as many as 240 students from pre-school through the sixth grade, is the result of a groundbreaking partnership between Lewis County and Gilmer County.
The school, which should be complete in the summer of 2015, will replace the aging Troy Elementary School in Gilmer County and Alum Bridge Elementary School in Lewis County. Those schools were identified by the SBA as two of the state's 15 most "in need" schools, but the cost to build two new schools would be nearly $20 million and did not meet the cost-effectiveness guidelines that the Authority looks for in its projects, Manchin said.
"The cost of a school for 100 students is not greatly different than the cost of one for 250," he said. "To build a new Alum Bridge would have cost $9 million. To build a new Troy would have cost $9 million."
So in November 2011, both counties and the SBA broached the idea of building a new school together.
Manchin said that Leading Creek is unprecedented. West Virginia has several multi-county vocational schools, but Leading Creek is the first of its kind in the state, and the $10.5 million project has found a location that takes its dual-county partnership to a new level.
"They managed to find a site that sits right on the county line," Manchin said. "There will be a physical marker on the property, and students will actually attend classes in one county and then the other."
The logistics of the Leading Creek project were not simple, but Manchin said the state code that governs every school board had provisions that covered nearly every aspect of the project, from curriculum, to personnel, to funding.
The SBA developed a document that outlines the responsibilities of both counties. Each county contributed to the purchase of 20 acres of land for the school.
A council with both county superintendents, a member from each county's board of education, a representative from each county's Local School Improvement Council and the president of each existing elementary school's PTA will govern Leading Creek.
The council will make recommendations concerning personnel that will be forwarded to the Lewis County board of education. As the designated "receiving" county, Lewis County holds the title to the new school and will gain students from Gilmer County, the "sending" county. Gilmer County will not be able to count the students it sends to Lewis County as its own after three years, but it will not be responsible for the upkeep of the school. Lewis County will eventually become responsible for Leading Creek, but will receive the customary state aid for each student, and the joint advisory board will remain in place.
Joseph Mace, superintendent for Lewis County Schools, said every teacher currently employed at Troy and Alum Bridge will have a job at Leading Creek. Gilmer County teachers who teach at the new school will retain their seniority in Gilmer County and gain seniority in Lewis County, and will continue to accrue both as long as they work there.