TOP OF 2013: Marshall County School Board
EDITOR’S NOTE: The past 12 months have been interesting – and at times, trying – for local residents, as natural gas drilling, politics, court cases and numerous other issues dominated the daily headlines. Through Sunday, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register present the Ohio Valley’s top 10 stories of 2013, as voted on by the newspapers’ editors.
MOUNDSVILLE – After many lessons learned in the previous year and under new leadership, 2013 brought a shift in focus for the Marshall County Board of Education from completing the last details of the new million Cameron High School building to renovating John Marshall High School.
More than a year after the original planned opening date, students filed into the new Cameron High School for the first time in January. Due and in addition to the lengthy delays, the school was also over budget.
On the student’s first day of school, crews could still be seen cleaning and painting the building that caused a four-day delay for the start of academic classes.
Even after the West Virginia State Fire Marshall approved the building for occupancy Dec. 28, the building continued to experience fixes throughout the next year as problems persisted including an unfinished HVAC system, roof leaks and other smaller issues.
In the meantime, the Cameron building contractors Nello Construction of Canonsburg, Pa. and its subcontractor Cost Co. of Pittsburgh filed a civil lawsuit Jan. 25 against the board alleging a breach of contract and breach of warranty. The lawsuit stated Marshall County School had caused difficulties in construction by actions such as providing incomplete and untimely project drawings, failing to make prompt decisions, failing to compensate for additional costs, among other allegations. As a result of the county’s breach, the lawsuit stated, “work on the project became more difficult and at times, physically impossible to complete and was inconveniently performed, materially delayed and/or accelerated.”
Officials said in April the lawsuit had delayed an investigation by the district to find out what caused a 14-month delay in the school’s construction. Officials also said Scalise Industries, Inc., who were involved in the litigation, refused to finish the school’s HVAC system and forced the administration to provide temporary fixes to the system during the school year.
Mid-summer saw new leadership after Superintendent Fred Renzella and Assistant Superintendent Wayne Simms retired after a combined 91 years of work in the district. Former Washington Lands Elementary School Principal Michael Hince and then John Marshall High School Principal Corey Murphy took over as Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, respectively, in July. During his swearing-in, Hince emphasized instruction would be his biggest goal in his new position.
With a new administration and the start of student’s fall semester in the new Cameron building underway, the school district’s attention shifted to the renovation of John Marshall High School as officials began meeting regularly with architect Silling Associates Inc. of Charleston to review potential designs. Through a $7 million grant from the West Virginia School Building Authority awarded in March, officials began looking at potential renovations, including reconstructing the entrance of the school, enclosing an outside walkway and renovating the school cafeteria.
The renovation budget was originally set at $16 million. However, an unexpected $8 million HVAC renovation threw a wrench in the project in October as officials scrambled to decide what aspects of the project would have to be sacrificed to stay in budget. The district later decided to extend the project over the next five years as money from the school’s excess levy becomes available to accommodate the unexpected costs. The board also determined $16.8 million would be spent in the first year to complete the construction requirements from the SBA, which included renovating the front entrance, enclosing a walkway between the main building and fine arts building, renovating the HVAC system and updating the science labs. An anticipated reconstruction of the school’s kitchen and cafeteria was postponed until the second year of the project.
The board also experienced some trouble when the SBA approached them after the board failed to sell a promised $6.5 million in bank bonds in June. Concerned the board was not holding its end of its agreement with the state, SBA officials met with the board in October. District administrators cited an unfavorable bond market in the summer as the reason for the delayed sale. The bonds were eventually sold to United Bank in December at a 1.9 percent interest rate.
With building issues surrounding Cameron High School seemingly in the past, several problems resurfaced in November when school staff reported the persistence of roof leaks, a deterioration of the auditorium’s stage floor, the lack of instruction manuals for the school’s operating systems and a faulty Internet server. Officials addressed the issues two weeks later in a board meeting, where they confirmed a leak in a second-floor classroom and a leak from an HVAC pipe in the school’s auditorium. The board refuted claims the auditorium’s floor was deteriorating, however, and instead said polyurethane bubbles from the floor’s varnish could have been mistaken for water damage. The board also determined one operating system handbook was missing, but recommended staff avoid fixing system issues themselves.
The school’s Internet server was not addressed further than stating the city of Cameron may have faulty Internet connection in general. Repairs on the school’s leaks were performed during the student’s Thanksgiving break, Principal Jack Cain later reported.
Officials expect to bid out about $5 million for structural work on the front entrance of John Marshall High School in February and anticipate most of the project’s construction to occur over the summer. Officials will also decide whether to lower the levy rate from 98 to 94 percent in March, when the district receives county property values from the Marshall County Assessor’s Office.