ELKVIEW, W.Va. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking for public comment for a proposed Kanawha County elementary school as others with the project are looking forward to getting work underway.
FEMA representatives, as well as local and state officials, took part in a public meeting Tuesday at Elkview Middle School regarding the institution, which would replace Clendenin Elementary School.
The hearing included an overview of the agency’s environmental review of the proposed property for the project, as well as opportunities to ask questions to representatives of the involved parties.
Clendenin Elementary School was damaged in the June 2016 flood; its students currently take classes at Bridge Elementary School, including portable classroom located on the same campus. Herbert Hoover High School also was affected by the flood; its students use portable classrooms on the campus of Elkview Middle School.
The recommended plan for a new elementary school is building a new building on Wolverton Mountain Road in Elkview. The institution would accommodate more than 490 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
The Kanawha County Board of Education passed a resolution in March to acquire a 35-acre tract for the school although details about the acquisition were still being discussed.
Stephanie Everfield, FEMA’s Region III regional environmental officer, said the National Environmental Policy Act requires environmental assessments in addition to opportunities for public comment.
“We would like the public to comment on what they know about the area, what we may have missed about the area, and we will add those comments to our draft environmental assessment,” she said. “If we need to revisit some laws, we will revisit some laws to make a better determination.”
The assessment process typically takes a year to complete, but Everfield said the project was streamlined to six months.
“It’s actually been a great collaboration with all the parties involved,” she added. “We have weekly meetings with the contractors, we have in-person meetings with the school boards. We’ve also had congressional meetings with congressional and state senators in West Virginia.”
Charles Wilson, a facilities planning contractor for Kanawha County Schools, worked with state and federal officials on addressing the two damaged schools as the school system’s executive director of facilities planning. Wilson retired from that position last July, but still works with the projects through his contractor role.
“Everything is sequential,” he said about working with FEMA. “One step follows the next. They are very stringent about following this process, and it’s really for our best interest. Should we make a mistake along the process, that could jeopardize our funding.”
Sunday will mark the three-year anniversary of the flood, in which 23 people also died and thousands of structures were destroyed, including two schools in Nicholas County. Elk River residents and lawmakers have voiced frustrations about how long it has taken to get new schools built.
Wilson said the concerns are understandable, but noted it is important for Kanawha County Schools and government offices to cooperate.
“This will be their partial payback,” he said. “This is there reward for waiting. It’s going to be a wonderful school.”
ZMM Architects and Engineers designed the elementary school; the $31.9 million institution will be 65,388 square feet, and be built using wood, stone and metal products.
“We focused more on how do we make this school fit Clendenin, and what materials can we use,” said Adam Krason, one of the firm’s principals. “It’s not a traditional red-brick schoolhouse.”
Krason said the designers also wanted to provide students with open learning environments; this includes covered outdoor learning spaces attached to classrooms.
As for building a new high school, Wilson said the project is going through a similar process.
“It’s a much bigger project. A huge project with over $80 million budget,” he said. “It won’t be long before they schedule an environmental assessment meeting similar to this one.”
Once the environmental assessment for the proposal is complete, Kanawha County Schools has to complete the acquisition of the property. Krason said the project will be put out to bid in mid-August with the goal of having a groundbreaking ceremony in October. The school is projected to open for the 2021-2022 school year.