Ritchie Elementary School Gets $5.4M Grant for Upgrades

Ohio County Schools has received nearly $5.4 million in state funding for an extensive renovation project at Ritchie Elementary in South Wheeling, one of the oldest school buildings in the county.

Ohio County was one of only seven school districts in the state to be approved from 21 that applied during this round of funding from the West Virginia School Building Authority. The authority announced a total of about $43.3 million in grants during its meeting in Charleston Monday.

“We are thrilled to receive this funding,” said Superintendent Dianna Vargo during the county Board of Education meeting Monday at Woodsdale Elementary School.

The school board received more than 90 percent of the funding had requested for the approximately $7.3 million project, as they had asked the authority for about $5.9 million.

That means the county will use almost $1.9 million in local funds to complete the upgrades.

Officials expect the project will significantly extend the lifespan of the school, which was built in 1925 and still uses window air conditioning units to cool the building. Planned upgrades include a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a new roof, a more secure entrance, replacement of ceiling tile, plaster repair, casework, restroom renovations, elevator repairs and window replacement, as well as repairs to masonry and the building’s mechanical, electrical and fire alarm system.

The original cost estimate was about $6.7 million, but that figure didn’t include the new roof, according to board President Jim Jorden, who said the project will take a year and a half to two years to complete.

“This is an opportunity to make structural, security and safety upgrades to the building,” he said.

The only other local district to receive funding was Brooke County, which will receive $100,000 to hire bond counsel for the construction of a new middle school near Brooke High School, contingent upon voters there passing a bond levy in November.

In other business, Vargo said beginning in May, the school district will start tracking the number of hours its substitute employees, including teachers and bus drivers, work in order to comply with the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Starting next year, employers must offer health insurance to all workers who average at least 30 hours per week, which is considered full-time under the law.

The county’s cost to provide coverage is about $400 per employee, according to Assistant Superintendent Bernie Dolan.

But Dolan doesn’t anticipate significant new costs, as virtually the only way for a substitute to accrue 30 hours per week is a long-term assignment, he said. If any substitutes are deemed eligible for benefits, they would receive them beginning July 1, 2015, according to Vargo.

The board’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. May 12.