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Former high school eyed as elementary

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 10:00 PM

WAYNE -- The old Kenova Elementary School, which closed in May 2011 because of structural problems related to a sinkhole, will not be considered an option by Wayne County School Board members as they look to find a permanent home for the school.

Though not official, that was the consensus Thursday morning during a work session involving board members, Kenova Mayor Ric Griffith and members of Kenova City Council.

Griffith and councilman Terry Parsons said the old school has deteriorated in the past 18 months and is in no shape to reopen.

"The elementary is not as it was the day it closed," Parsons said. "A lot of things have changed. We don't want people to get the feeling you can mop the floor, move the SMART Boards (back) and have a school."

Wayne school officials are looking for options after county voters in December overwhelmingly rejected a proposed $33.1 million bond issue that, combined with state money contingent on the bond's passage, would have paid for a new Kenova Elementary School, a new school in Crum and other projects at county schools.

The city of Kenova now owns the old Kenova Elementary building and the one block of land it sits on following a property swap with the school board. Griffith said the city is proceeding with its plans to auction off the property.

The school system received the old Ceredo-Kenova High School and permission to use the ball fields to set up modular classrooms as a temporary solution to the loss of the elementary school. The deal included the condition that the fields be returned for community athletic leagues as soon as possible.

In the weeks after the Kenova Elementary closed, the HVAC system was removed from the roof, as well as the exterior air conditioning systems, Parsons said. In addition, flooding issues continue in the basement, and the water and sewer line problems believed to have contributed to the sinkhole have not been corrected.

Another scenario rose to the forefront and was intensely discussed as a real possibility to keeping the elementary school in Kenova. Parsons said he was part of a tour Wednesday of the old C-K High School and came away thinking the idea wasn't far-fetched. The property includes an addition made in the mid-1980s that could serve as a starting point for the school, with room to add on after an older section is demolished.

"The newer section has been fairly kept from vandalism and is a very, very good building," Parsons said, noting the band and choir room used for the C-K Alumni Band and the gym also are in good shape. "There are 12 classrooms there now with a library."

He said the roof is leaking in one section, and windows and the HVAC system need to be replaced, but he said it is structurally sound.

While the original building and cafeteria aren't worth salvaging, he said the 25-year-old section is. That section, explained interim superintendent Mike Ferguson, was built in the mid-1980s with a bond approved by voters. About 12 years later, the school closed due to the consolidation that created Spring Valley High School.

"To me ... I think there needs to be serious consideration," Parsons said.

Griffith also said it would be a good starting point. Although there would still be a need for at least a dozen modular classrooms, he said the school system would at least know where the school would be and could then work toward getting funds for demolition work and building an addition.

While board members said they are still just gathering ideas, renovating the old high school may be one of the few choices they have. Moving back to the old school isn't feasible with its structural problems, and closing Kenova and disbursing students isn't even being considered as a last resort, school officials said.

"This board does not want to have disbursement as an issue," Mike Ferguson said. "There will be a school in Kenova."

That doesn't mean people still don't want answers as to why the old school was closed in such an abrupt fashion, he said.

Some answers were provided to The Herald-Dispatch in a Wednesday night phone interview with Dave Ferguson, an architect and vice president and owner of ZMM, Inc., Architects & Engineers out of Charleston.

The Huntington resident has worked with school systems throughout the state on both new construction and renovation. Dave Ferguson and his group were working for Wayne County Schools in 2011 and assessed the gymnasium at the old Kenova Elementary.

At the time, he said the group was there to evaluate what structural improvements were needed to get clearance to reopen and use the second-floor classrooms above the gym and staging area. But they found other structural problems with the gym that were traced to the sinkhole, which had been filled on multiple occasions in previous years.

"The gym had huge cracks, and we were monitoring those," Dave Ferguson said. "We had been looking at the gym, and the sinkhole got progressively worse quickly."

He said gravel that had been used to fill it in sunk several feet, and a large steel plate was placed over the hole and attached to the pavement at the entrance of the cafeteria -- an area walked over each day by hundreds of students and staff.

In addition, he said the basement flooded, and they knew it was a sewer line because of the color of the water. He said he informed former superintendent Gary Adkins of his findings, who then relayed the information to top officials at the West Virginia Department of Education.

"The state asked me if I could guarantee the safety of the kids until the end of the year, and I couldn't," Dave Ferguson said, noting the order to close came quickly after. "I think it was a good move to do that. It probably could have lasted two more weeks, but we didn't want anyone injured. Anything is fixable, but the issue at the time was to make sure we could do something at the site, and we couldn't."

He went on to say he would not recommend using the facility as a school again, mainly because he doesn't know how extensive the underground problems are.

"The only way to do it is to dig, and that would take a huge effort," he said. "You don't know how extensive the fix is going to be."

He said water and sewer lines run under the school, and there are inadequate records as to where and how deep, adding that lines could be as deep as 12 feet.

"I think it'd take a lot of money to get back into that building," Dave Ferguson added. "I can't believe they'd go back in that old property."



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