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Flood-displaced students to be in portables by Jan. 1

Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero Leonard Tyree, 6th grade social studies teacher at Summersville Middle School, instructs his class using a temporary classroom set up in the Summersville Armory. Students in the background are eating lunch in the cafeteria portion of the school.
Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero
Leonard Tyree, 6th grade social studies teacher at Summersville Middle School, instructs his class using a temporary classroom set up in the Summersville Armory. Students in the background are eating lunch in the cafeteria portion of the school.

ROANOKE, W.Va. — Students and teachers displaced by the devastating June floods are making do in nearby schools, libraries, churches and convention centers.

As the Summersville Arena and Conference Center, Summersville Middle School students attend classes sectioned off by tall curtains. Sounds echo across the vast arena, and teachers store supplies in every nook and cranny available.

But these difficult conditions won’t last forever.

 Scott Raines, director of school planning construction for the West Virginia School Building Authority, said displaced students in Nicholas and Kanawha counties can expect to be in long-term temporary modular units by the first of the year.

Raines updated the School Building Authority’s voting board on the process at its Sept. 26 quarterly meeting at Stonewall Jackson Resort.

He said the lease on the Summersville Conference Center runs out Oct. 30, but the school district has negotiated to keep students there until modular units can be secured. Because modular units for Summersville Middle are already out to bid, Raines hopes these students will be relocated before winter break.

Richwood Middle School students will move into portables at Cherry River Elementary.

Richwood High School is located at Beaver Elementary, which was closed when Cherry River Elementary opened. Raines said the county had sold the school but was able to lease the facility back and will be able to stay there until a permanent facility is constructed.

Herbert Hoover Elementary School will be housed in portables at Elkview Middle School. The portables will be elevated out of the floodplain and will be in a location where children can be accessed in case of another flood.

Clendenin Elementary students will be housed in portables at Bridge Elementary.

“Documents for both Kanawha and Nicholas county are complete and ready to go out to bid for modular procurement,” he said.

At this time, the SBA is putting together estimates on constructing new schools in partnership with FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, but new construction has not yet been approved.

Raines said FEMA must receive documentation on the feasibility of repairing the schools, elevating existing schools above the floodplain, and flood proofing the building before it will approve funding for a direct relocation.

He said they are still walking through that process with state and federal agencies.

State Superintendent of Schools Michael Martirano said he and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are working together to purchase some of the modulars used to relocate displaced students so the state has some on hand in the event of future natural disasters.

“I want to inform our state how vulnerable we are when an event such as this occurs,” Martirano said. “We don’t have a stockpile, in any county, of available buildings that are holding facilities, readily available to move children into. I think a lot of people think that we have closed schools we can just move students back into, but it is not that simple.”

 Once flood-displaced students are relocated to permanent facilities, Martirano said the state hopes to own several of the modular units to be deployed in the event of a fire, flood or other disaster.

“I’m pleased by the governor’s forward thinking. It emphasizes the point that we have very little flexibility, and we end up having to go into community locations that aren’t optimal — churches, libraries, community centers,” he said.

While there is not a lot of research available on how students learn in portables versus other nontraditional spaces, Martirano said he prefers students be taught in modulars when waiting for brick and mortar structures to be built.

“Collins Middle School has just been relocated into modulars at the Oak Hill campus. That facility is wonderful. The teachers are pleased and there is quality instruction happening there,” he added.

Raines said the SBA is looking at the feasibility of owning modular units, especially how they hold up over time and the cost of maintenance.

FEMA is expected to cover at least 75 percent of the cost of new school construction for flood-damaged schools, and the State of West Virginia will provide matching funds.

— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer

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