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Keep School Commitments

In this day and age, it ought to go without saying that Wheeling Park High School should have the most effective science education department local taxpayers can afford.

But Bethlehem Elementary needs a new roof. Warwood School needs a new fire-suppression sprinkler system. Madison Elementary needs new doors and windows. The list goes on and on, as those who voted in favor of a $42.2 million school bond issue in May 2018 may recall from reading the ballot language.

Every school in Ohio County is on the list for improvements and repairs to be funded by bond proceeds and $34 million from the state and other sources. Some of the proposed work, such as repairs and safety upgrades, is absolutely essential.

Last week, Ohio County Board of Education members heard a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones, regarding the WPHS science department. The essence of it was a proposal to relocate some science classrooms so that all of them, including laboratories, can be situated together.

Members of a committee involved in the $76 million repair and improvement project were “pretty adamant and pretty unanimous in that this is pretty much our top priority, as far as Wheeling Park goes,” Jones told board members.

There is a catch. “This will, of course, cost money,” Jones noted — about $1 million.

He asked that, in deciding whether to boost bond project spending to cover that, board members consider that some other repair/improvement projects have come in under budget. Indeed they have — but bids on some work have been higher than budgeted, too.

Earlier this month, board members discussed a plan to upgrade the HVAC system at Triadelphia Middle School. The estimated cost was $2.7 million — but only $1.3 million had been budgeted. That forced school officials to downgrade the plan in order to stay under budget.

The unfortunate reality is that as the multi-year project proceeds at other schools, more cost overruns can be expected. That raises the possibility that, if an additional $1 million is spent on WPHS science classrooms now, funding may come up short for work at other schools.

And whether it is completed as was planned in 2018 is not just a matter of what school officials want: The ballot language in that May vote specified certain repairs/improvements would be made at every school in the county — and it listed estimated costs for the work.

In other words, school officials made certain commitments to voters. Keeping them is important.

Board of education members should bear that in mind in deciding whether to go ahead with the extra-cost proposal on WPHS science classrooms and laboratories.

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