CIRCLEVILLE � This is how a tiny mountain town ended up with three gymnasiums and three public kitchens within 50 yards of each other, all in the name of saving money.
Twelve years ago, county school officials said they had to close historic Circleville K-12 School to cut costs.
It�s a relic from the 1930s, they said. It�s expensive to maintain and doesn�t meet the needs of children anymore.
Besides, the state School Building Authority wouldn�t give the county money unless it consolidated schools, they said.
After a bitter court battle, they closed Circleville in 1998. They built a new elementary nearby � close enough that a sixth-grader could throw a baseball and hit their old school.
They sent the junior and senior high students to Franklin, after building an addition and renovating the high school there.
Cost: $9.2 million, paid almost entirely by the state School Building Authority.
While they were building the new elementary school, they ran short of money. They had to cut the size of the gymnasium in half.
�No fair,� local parents cried. They had been promised a full-sized gym.
They turned to their state representative, who happens to be Finance Committee chairman of the House of Delegates.
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He found state money to build the kitchen and gymnasium that now bears his name, the Harold K. Michael Community Building. It stands between the old school and the new one.
Cost: more than $600,000 from the state Budget Digest.
Meanwhile, community volunteers like Dot Bennett worked to bring the old school back to its former glory. Earlier this month, she showed visitors the results.
They polished the wooden gym floors and painted the old bleachers gleaming white and green, and installed new kitchen equipment in the old home economics room. With some additional work, the building soon will meet all fire and safety codes, Bennett said.
Cost: about $200,000, from grants, local fund-raisers and state funds.
�They said it would cost millions to fix this building,� Bennett said. She waved her hand at the gymnasium ceiling, at the new lights and paint. �Look what we�ve been able to do with so little.�
Twelve years ago, county officials estimated it would cost $6.6 million to build a new Circleville School.
They never estimated how much it would cost to renovate the old building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
�That�s outrageous not to even explore all of the options,� said Constance Beaumont of the National Trust of Historic Places. �It�s heartbreaking, as well as wasteful.�
Other states have discovered they can save millions through renovations and still give students a modern school, she said.
During the closure debate, Clacy Williams, executive director of the state School Building Authority, said the building was a firetrap. You could start a fire by dropping a match on its wooden floors, he said.
Jerry Myers, a school architect in Idaho, has renovated several schools with wooden floors and met fire codes. Even replacing the floors could be cheaper than building something new, he said.
Bennett isn�t a construction expert. But she�s convinced that county officials were so determined to close Circleville, they didn�t want to ask if renovation was possible.
�If we could�ve gotten the money they�ve spent on these other buildings, we would�ve had the Taj Mahal here,� she said.
�It�s a shame it had to happen. If they had any sense, it wouldn�t have,� she said.
No savings, few new classes
In the last decade, Pendleton County school officials closed one high school and two elementary schools. The survival of the school system depended on consolidation, they said, to cut costs and improve curriculum for students.
But predictions of big savings have failed to come true.
They�ve cut only three staff members, when they promised to cut 10.
Meanwhile, student enrollment has dropped by almost 200 students, the equivalent of four loaded school buses.
County officials are trying to explain the falling enrollment. Hanover Shoe, the county�s biggest employer, shut its doors two years ago.
Also, about 70 North Fork Valley students who would have attended Circleville drive or take a bus to schools in other counties, such as Petersburg High in Grant County.