Assignment: Vote Yes or No On Ohio County School Upgrades

Bond Issue to Help Fund $75.5M in School Projects

WHEELING — New security systems, infrastructure upgrades and “innovative curricular spaces” at all Ohio County Schools are at the top of Superintendent Kim Miller’s list if voters approve a $42.2 million bond issue on May 8.

Wheeling Park High School would see about $24 million in upgrades through the bond issue, with one of the biggest changes being a new, more secure entrance. There also would be enhancement to science labs, a new strings room and other upgrades.

County educators believe now is the time to start updating school properties to bring them in line with 21st century educational needs, and proposed projects include $75.5 million in building upgrades if voters approve. The work include everything from updating labs and instructional areas and adding cafeteria and kitchen space, to replacing roofs and windows and making entrances more visible and secure.

The county also plans to seek more than $28 million for the work through the West Virginia School Building Authority.

“This is not one project. It is going to encompass the entire county — all 13 facilities,” Miller said.

McKinley and Associates of Wheeling has put forth preliminary designs for the projects, which are currently being discussed with the public and will be tweaked in the coming months.

All schools will see exterior, heating and lighting upgrades, as well as new paint and carpeting.

Along with the local and state funding, proposed energy improvements are projected to make the school buildings more efficient, adding another $6.35 million in savings to the budget.

In total, $75.5 million would be available for building upgrades.

Cost To the Taxpayer

An Ohio County taxpayer with a home appraised at $120,000 through the county assessor’s office would pay and extra $71.28 a year in property taxes if the bond levy is approved, or about $6 per month, according to information provided by Ohio County Schools.

A $150,000 home would cost its owner $89.10 annually, and a $200,000 residence, $118.80.

At the lower end, the owner of a $70,000 home would see an increase of $41.58 in their tax bill.

A current 25-year school bond approved in 1993 will expire at the end of June. But at this point in its tenure it is costing Ohio County taxpayers only a nominal amount, and the savings won’t be all that noticeable, according to business manager Steve Bieniek.

Where The Money Is Going

A third of the $75.5 million construction budget will be directed to Wheeling Park High School. Plans call for the construction of three separate additions to the school, which was constructed in 1976.

The first would be a two-story, 4,000-square-foot addition at the front of the school that would include a security entrance, a stairwell and an elevator leading directly to the school’s existing media center.

The media center would be reconfigured into “maker spaces” — lab spaces where students could congregate to create. Educators say the days of the large school library has passed.

A second addition would add a 3,400-square-foot wrestling room complete with office space and locker rooms. The current wrestling room, which is across the from gymnasium next to the band room, would then be renovated into space for the music department.

Another 1,000 square feet would be added to provide storage for the performing arts center. It’s expected all projects proposed for Wheeling Park would take three years to complete.

Major additions and construction are in the plans for other schools.

Triadelphia Middle School, built in 1917, would see about $8.6 million in construction. The school’s detached annex — built in the 1920s — is scheduled to be demolished, and replaced with a three story, 22,250-square-foot addition connected to the main building.

The site on which the annex sits would be turned into a parking area, and the service road would be reconfigured.

Inside the addition would be a multi-purpose room for dining and additional physical education use, and a new kitchen. Music and choral rooms would be moved into the addition, and there would be art and science labs created there. New retractable bleachers also would be placed in the gymnasium.

Woodsdale Elementary would see nearly $6.5 million in renovations, including a 1,600-square-foot addition to the cafeteria.

Madison Elementary is scheduled for about $5.4 million in work, but the SBA already has indicated it will not allocate any state funding for repairs as the school sits in a flood plain.

The century-old school is in need of a roof, and proposed plans call for reconfiguring its front entrance. Miller said updates at the school would be difficult and may not come soon without levy money.

Wheeling Middle School is in line for a two-story, 4,350-square-foot security entrance. Total renovations there are expected to cost more than $5 million.

Cafeteria expansions and kitchen renovations also are planned at Steenrod Elementary School and the Warwood School. Steenrod would get nearly $1.3 million in upgrades; Warwood, about $4 million.

Elsewhere, proposed improvements will cost about $1.1 million at Bethlehem Elementary; $3.1 million at Bridge Street Middle, $2.6 million at Elm Grove Elementary; $3.1 million at Middle Creek Elementary; $1 million at Ritchie Elementary; and $2.3 million at West Liberty Elementary.

Public meetings to discuss the bond issue have been set for April 9 at the Warwood School, April 23 at Wheeling Middle School, and May 7 at Wheeling Park High School. All three meetings start at 5 p.m.