Brooke board narrows bond uses

WELLSBURG – Brooke County school officials decided Wednesday they will have to narrow their plans for three new schools to one to prevent an increase in taxes for Brooke County residents.

Recently the school board announced plans to put on the November ballot a bond issue to raise local funds for a new middle and two new primary schools.

But Brian Ferguson, board vice president, said raising sufficient funds for all three would require taxes for Brooke County residents to be doubled and possibly tripled.

He and other school board officials said they want to avoid raising taxes. For that reason, the bond issue, if approved, is timed to follow the expiration of the school district’s current 15-year bond issue.

At a work meeting Wednesday, board members suggested pursuing state and local funds for a new middle school only was more feasible.

Plans call for the middle school to built near Brooke High School and replace Follansbee and Wellsburg middle schools. The board is considering the grassy parking area used by students and for parking during football games. Its cost has been estimated at about $30 million, while the cost for each primary school has been estimated at $16 to $20 million.

Plans called for the primary schools to replace the district’s seven primary schools and serve the northern and southern halves of the county.

Property owned by the school board near the high school and Franklin Primary School and the Follansbee Middle School football field have been suggested for their locations.

Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said the move isn’t a total departure from the board members’ plans. They had envisioned building the new schools in phases but had hoped to secure funds for them at the same time, she said.

The decision came as the board was finalizing details for Kidder-Wilkerson to include when she pitches the project to the state School Building Authority in Charleston on March 17. The state board could provide up to 40 percent of the project’s cost.

Kidder-Wilkerson said the board has stepped up efforts to secure state funds after learning a $100,000 grant is available through the School Building Authority for costs involved in planning the project. Those costs can include legal counsel for the bond issue and a financial adviser to assist. The board is expected to consider hiring Goodwin & Goodwin of Charleston for its bond counsel and Piper Jaffray & Co. of Pittsburgh as financial adviser.

The board’s next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the board office, 1201 Pleasant Ave.

But the two won’t be paid until the bond issue is approved since the board may not use the planning grant if the project is canceled.

School officials haven’t decided whether to include upgrades to the high school’s heating ventilation and air conditioning system, estimated at $6 million, in the bond issue.

Kidder-Wilkerson and Rob Robinson, facilities supervisor, said the system is aging and in need of repairs.

A merger of the primary schools into two and the middle schools into one was established as a goal in the 10-year comprehensive educational facilities plan adopted by the board in 2010.

The plan was developed by McKinley and Associates and Planning Advocates with input from a committee of 43 teachers and community members.

Rising costs to maintain the existing older school buildings and declining enrollment were cited as reasons for the mergers.

Robinson told the board Wednesday the warranty for the roofs of the middle schools and five of the seven primary schools will expire in 2015 or 2016. He said they already have expired for L.B. Millsop and Wellsburg schools, though the newer roof over Wellsburg Primary’s gym won’t expire until 2033.

Kidder-Wilkerson said the district’s staff has worked hard to maintain the buildings but money spent for their maintenance could be better spent on students’ education.

Robinson said the cost for maintenance and utilities would naturally be less with fewer buildings.

He presented the district’s utility costs for the last fiscal year. It cost approximately $41,987 to heat the seven primary schools, about $29,292 for water there and about $158,752 for electricity.

The board has discussed the possibility of razing the old middle schools after the new one is built to prevent them from becoming eyesores if they sit unused.

Board member Chad Haught on Wednesday suggested doing a title search first to determine if there are any stipulations from previous owners.

When Bethany Primary School was closed, its ownership reverted back to Bethany College, which uses it for its education department.