Ohio County Schools To Seek $86M In Upgrades; Taxpayers Could be Asked to Pay for Half

WHEELING — Ohio County Schools is considering more than $86 million in property improvement projects over the next three years, backed in part by a $43 million bond issue that may go before voters this spring.

At the center of these projects are security updates and upgrades to science labs, as well as a plan to decentralize meal preparation for students and put expanded kitchens in most school facilities. All meals presently are prepared at Wheeling Park High School and transported to other buildings in the district.

“We want to, overall, change the way we’re doing everything in Ohio County Schools,” said Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones. “That’s a big statement … but we want to add a lot more technology and a lot more (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math). What ties into that is we have to have spaces to do all that.”

Board members spent more than four hours Monday discussing initial plans for district-wide property improvements.

A cost analysis for proposed projects provided by representatives of McKinley and Associates of Wheeling to board of education members set the expected costs for upgrades being discussed at almost $86.5 million.

The West Virginia School Building Authority would be asked to provide $29.1 million in funding, with another $43.6 million to be paid through a bond that would go before school district voters in May.

Details of the bond issue have yet to be finalized.

The remaining funds — almost $14 million — would be funded by the distrct and then repaid through energy savings, according to McKinley and Associates.

Jeremy Smith, vice president of CMTA Energy Solutions of Louisville, Ky., told board members Berkeley County Schools in the Eastern Panhandle was able to reduce its annual utility costs from $5.8 million to $4.1 million through renovations and upgrades to heating systems. He estimated Ohio County could save $400,000 to $500,000 a year, resulting in a savings of $12 million to $15 million over the next 30 years.

Plans presented by the McKinley representatives showed most of the district’s schools receiving kitchen upgrades.

Child Nutrition Coordinator Renee Griffin said Ohio County Schools is one of only three school districts in West Virginia that centralizes meal preparation. The national trend is moving away from centralized meal preparation, she said.

“The quality of the food sometimes comes into question when it is being transported,” Griffin said. “We moved to that centralized kitchen 20-25 years ago, and every single day there is a multitude of problems from the time the food comes in (to when) it actually gets to the student. If it is actually at the school and prepared, a lot of that is eliminated. …

“We also have a lot of employee issues with a central kitchen. We have a lot of workload on those employees than in smaller kitchens at the schools, and it’s a lot harder work. We have a lot of workers’ compensation claims relating to those workers because of the magnitude of the work,” Griffin said.

Plans discussed Monday called for excessive renovation to Wheeling Park High School’s entrance, including the construction of a security area and moving some administrative offices to the second floor. There also would be a new stairwell built near the entrance that would make accessing the media center easier.

Two additions to the high school — a storage area for the J.B Chambers Performing Arts Center and a new wrestling room — also would be built. The current wrestling room would be converted into a new home for strings classes.

At Triadelphia Middle School, the current annex would be demolished, and a new addition constructed in its place.

Renovations at Woodsdale Elementary School would include an expansion of the cafeteria. Madison Elementary School is in need of a new roof and sprinkler system, although the SBA has declined to pay for improvements for the school facility, which is more than 100 years old.

All board members were present for a short board meeting that took place Monday prior to the work session, although board member Shane Mallett did not stay for the work session.