Harman closure plan halts funding

HARMAN – State officials decided against providing emergency funding for necessary repairs at Harman School after seeing documents that show the Randolph County Board of Education plans to permanently close the school within two years, Delegate Denise Campbell said Wednesday.

Campbell, D-Randolph, said she’d expected the state to announce an allocation of $100,000 or more during the July 29 BOE special session. However, she received a phone call 50 minutes before the meeting telling her the emergency funds would not be available.

“We had hoped to get $100,000 or more in promises for funding the night of that meeting, but we were told the funds were halted due to information in reports they had received,” Campbell told The Inter-Mountain Wednesday.

Campbell said the information was contained in the board’s 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, which lists the 12-year Harman School – along with Coalton Elementary and Homestead Elementary schools – as “projected for closure” before the 2016-17 school year.

The CEFP was approved by the BOE on Oct. 1, 2012, more than a month before a proposed bond call – which would have raised $13.5 million for Harman School, Coalton and Homestead and other schools -was defeated in a November 2012 election.

Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George said Wednesday the CEFP will be updated in October.

“The BOE will vote to update items in the CEFP,” George said. “There were no changes made in October 2013.”

George said the “projected for closure” designation does not guarantee that a building will close.

“Harman, Coalton and Homestead schools all have structural issues,” he said. “They each have heating/ventilation issues. To make the upgrades in Harman School would take an estimated $5.6 million.”

George said he is seeking to make the emergency repairs at Harman School and return students to their classrooms there as soon as possible because he was “directed by the board to reopen Harman as soon as possible.

“The board is fully aware of the structural issues still needing correction at Harman School,” George said. “We will be actively seeking funding to make those repairs and upgrades.”

Asked if he thought Harman School would be closed by 2017, George said, “What will happen, I don’t know.”

Board member Donna Auvil said Wednesday she was unaware of the CEFP and the 10-year plan, including the projected closure of Harman School.

“I had no clue,” Auvil said.

Other Randolph BOE members said Wednesday the 10-year plan can be changed by a vote in October.

“We can change that,” board member Bruce Haddix said.

BOE President Lisa Wamsley said in 2012 the board also “voted to try to pass a bond for the bricks and mortar aspect. But we can amend (the CEFP).”

“It’s not written in stone,” Haddix said.

“The state mandates you to do that,” board member Harvey Taylor said. “When the bond failed, they told us we had to make a 10-year plan. The plan was in the bond to fix the furnace in Coalton, Harman and Homestead. In the 10-year plan, if the furnace went out in those schools they would be consolidated.”

Despite the failure of the emergency funds allocation, Campbell said she has not given up. She said she is still working with Del. Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, Sen. Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas. and Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, to secure funds to help make emergency repairs at Harman School so students and teachers can return to the classrooms.

Campbell announced Friday that at least $65,000 would come from the House, Senate and the Governor’s Office on Monday. As of Wednesday, those funds have not been reported as received by the Randolph County school system.

Harman School was deemed unsafe after an entire plaster ceiling fell in one of the school’s classrooms during the July 4 weekend, bringing down 2 tons of material. No one was present at the time in the school, which was built in the 1950s.

George said his office has been in contact with the state Board of Risk Insurance. However, Campbell said as of Wednesday there is no claim on file with the state Board of Risk Insurance regarding the Harman School repairs situation.

“Even with a $2,500 deductible, filing a claim would help,” Campbell said Wednesday. “If the damage is $10,000, with a $2,500 deductible, there would be $7,500 in funds to help with repairs.”

George has said he hopes insurance will compensate for at least part of the damage.

“We are checking to see how much, if any, compensation we will receive for the ceiling collapse in the one classroom at Harman School,” George said. “We cannot collect compensation for the other repairs that need completed on the school, just the one where the damages occurred.”

MSES Consultants estimated emergency repairs to make the school safe for students will cost approximately $175,000.

The Randolph County Board of Education voted last week to allow George to develop a plan to temporarily relocate Harman School students to other Elkins-area schools while emergency repairs are being made.

The recommendation also authorized George to seek funding from any available source to defer the cost of the emergency repairs and allows him to seek other repairs calculated to prevent further damage to the facility and make the building safe and habitable.

During the meeting, seven Harman community members and leaders addressed board members, pleading that Harman School not be closed permanently and asking for board members to find alternative placement closer to home for the approximately170 Harman students.

Anonymous donations totaling $55,000 were presented to the BOE during Tuesday’s meeting, along with a pledge of support by Randolph County Commission President Chris See.

George said he met with Harman School Principal Tammie Daniels and the principals of the Elkins schools Monday to set up a plan for temporarily placing the Harman students. He said Daniels then met with parents at Harman School Monday evening to share the plan.

George said grades six through 12 will be housed intact – as Harman School – at Elkins High School and the Randolph Technical Center, and will be taught by their own Harman School instructors. Pre-k through second-grade students will be housed at Jennings Randolph Elementary School – intact as Harman School, with their own Harman School instructors. Students in grades 3 through 5 will be housed intact – as Harman School – at Midland Elementary School.

“It is, and has always been, our goal to return the Harman students and instructors back to Harman School,” George said Tuesday.