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Kenova mayor: Old school is almost ready for auction

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 11:37 PM

KENOVA -- Kenova Mayor Ric Griffith said the city is waiting on two pieces of key information before the old elementary school can be put up for auction.

The school closed in May 2011 after a sinkhole was discovered on the property. Two months later, the city and Wayne County School Board agreed to a property swap that gave the city the school and deeded the old C-K High School property back to the Board of Education. The ball fields are currently being used for modular classrooms, with plans to demolish parts of the high school to build a new elementary school.

The former school, which takes up a city block along U.S. 60 between 14th and 15th streets, is going through an appraisal process and an estimate for asbestos abatement. Griffith said those figures aren't ready but expects to have a report at the Dec. 20 council meeting.

Those numbers will determine the reserve for an auction that will take place in 2013. Griffith said he is hopeful the city can receive a profit in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that can be used for improvements. That's the message he thinks some residents may not understand.

"We get criticism because people make assumptions about personal gain," Griffith said.

"That's the greatest sadness I have about being a public servant. I wish people would ask questions before drawing conclusions," he said.

He said when the agreement was made for the property swap, he and council members always had in mind that the property would be sold with a minimum amount of public dollars -- aside from appraisals, estimates and advertising the property.

The property, because it is owned by a government entity, must be auctioned off.

"It is the people's property," Griffith said. "We are guardians of that. We need to get fair market value."

Griffith said they continue to have serious talks with officials from the Presbyterian Housing Foundation of West Virginia, which is part of the national not-for-profit National Church Residences.

It built the three-story Roxanna Booth Manor on Chestnut Street in the late 1990s and also manages Ceredo Manor.

Griffith said leaders from the Presbyterian Housing Foundation had been in talks about acquiring the old C-K High School when the sinkhole was discovered and the elementary school had to close.

The organization, Griffith said, has already spent $35,000 on a feasibility study and is awaiting funding approval from the national headquarters.

He said those plans include renovating the newer part of the school located on the northeast corner of U.S. 60 for senior apartments and using the cafeteria for a senior day program.

At this point, he isn't sure if the organization wants the oldest section of the school, located along Poplar Street, which houses the auditorium and gymnasium. That's the part of the school with the highest asbestos content, he said.

"The current Presbyterian plan does not include that piece," Griffith said. "So we'll sell it as an entire city block or in parcels."

He said the city may choose to keep the older section and use proceeds from the sale to renovate it as a multi-purpose facility that could house the C-K Alumni Band, host community activities or house the Kenova Museum.

But the question Griffith gets more often than any other is if the property is safe enough for senior citizens or for city use, then why wasn't it safe enough for children?

"We did not make a determination about safety," Griffith said.

When the school was abruptly closed, then-Superintendent Gary Adkins said he was mandated by the West Virginia Department of Education to take the children out of harm's way.

"There are sinkholes, so we were told to get them out and close that school and come up with an alternative plan for next year," Adkins said on May 12, 2011, the final day the school housed children.

There was determined to be one main sinkhole between the cafeteria and gymnasium, and Griffith said an engineering report from the Presbyterian organization determined the underground sanitary pipes would need to be replaced.

Perhaps the school system could have taken that action; however, Griffith said his feeling was that "it was time to look at new buildings anyway."

That is what led to a Wayne County Schools special election on Saturday, Dec. 15, for a $33.1 million bond issue that taxpayers must approve. Early voting began Nov. 30, and continues through Wednesday, Dec. 12.

The bond proceeds, along with $20 million in verbal commitments from the West Virginia School Building Authority, would pay for a new consolidated elementary school for Kenova and Ceredo elementaries, a Pre-K through eighth-grade facility in Crum, turf for the county's three high school football fields and building enclosures at Lavalette Elementary.

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