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Wayne BOE votes to initiate closure process for Genoa, Dunlow elementary schools

GENOA, W.Va. — Discussions of consolidating two elementary schools in Wayne County have resumed as a result of action taken during a recent special meeting of the Wayne County Board of Education.

Board members voted 4-1 in favor of the superintendent’s recommendation to initiate the school closure process for Genoa Elementary and Dunlow Elementary schools in Wayne County.

The vote authorizes Superintendent Todd Alexander to begin the public notice and hearing process for consolidating the two schools, which involves sending information to both sites on future public hearings before a final decision is made.

Missy Hall, Johnita Jackson, JoAnn Hurley and Randall Trautwein voted in favor of authorization. Dennis Ashworth, who is serving his first term as a board member, was the lone opposed vote.

“When a community loses its school, too many times they crumble. I don’t want to see that happen to Genoa,” Ashworth said. “It makes sense economically, but I’m not ready to say (consolidating) is the only option.”

If the two schools do ultimately consolidate, the individual schools would be closed and would reopen as one school at the school building facility currently in Dunlow, which has sufficient enough infrastructure to support the increased enrollment.

The school would also receive a new name, which has yet to be released. Board members generically referred to the new school as Genoa-Dunlow Community School during the special meeting Thursday.

“I want to make it clear that this vote is only allowing the release of further information and that no final decision, no decision at all regarding the future of the two schools, is being made tonight,” Hurley, the BOE’s president, told a group of parents and students who attended the meeting.

According to Alexander, Genoa and Dunlow elementary schools are the only two schools in the district with enrollment numbers of fewer than 100, having student populations of 61 and 78, respectively.

Genoa and Dunlow elementary schools currently have a combined 29 employees, which is projected to decrease to 21 if consolidation would occur.

“Once notification is given, then the proposition goes up for 30-day public comment,” Alexander said. “Once that’s complete, there would be public hearings at both schools and the chance for the community to provide input to the board members and address any questions they might have.”

Though talks of consolidation have made their rounds in years past, the vote comes as a harsh realization for April Parsons, a parent to three students enrolled at Genoa Elementary.

“I guess it kind of gets you fired up because it’s not just affecting us as parents,” Parsons said. “It hurts the kids (and) affects the staff that watch over our kids. To see these kids come home crying because they are being told their school might close is heartbreaking.”

Parsons said her family lives in the town of Wayne but chose Genoa for a multitude of reasons, but the most important factor was the smaller class sizes not found in many other schools in the district.

“I actually live in Wayne but drive my kids 20 minutes each way so they can get the education they do at Genoa. The small classrooms are what I like, and I’m not sending my kids to any other school but Genoa. I would probably end up homeschooling,” she said.

Renewed talks of consolidation surfaced in March after new enrollment numbers were released, showing a decline of more than 300 students across the district.

“Enrollment has continued to decline over the past several years and we know that consolidating two schools can be hard, but when you’re under a hundred kids in each building, that’s hard, too, especially when you consider they are only 11 miles away from one another,” said Alexander.

Two public hearings have been scheduled, one at Genoa Elementary on Dec. 16 and a second at Dunlow Elementary on Dec. 17. Both are tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m.

If either meeting should be postponed due to inclement weather or other reasons, the meeting would be moved to Dec. 19 at whichever location it was originally scheduled for.

Luke Creasy is a reporter for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.

Ohio ranks high in hazardous dams needing work

NEW CONCORD, Ohio — Picturesque, and at times, worrisome.

The Muskingum University dam holds back what locals call “College Lake” on the campus of the private liberal arts college. Perched directly over the inlet to the lake’s spillway is a wooden gazebo — a locally legendary fixture where many young couples have had their first date or kiss.

State inspectors want the gazebo torn down. They describe it as an obstruction that could slow the flow of water in an extreme flood, increasing the potential for the earthen dam to be overtopped and fail.

Some students and alumni disagree, and the Spoon Holder gazebo — as it’s affectionately called because of its shape — remains in place.

“It’s got that sentimental value to it that so many people don’t want to touch it,” Village Administrator Charlotte Colley said.

The Muskingum dam is among more than 100 in Ohio rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition that are classified as “high hazard” because lives could be lost if the dams fail. A two-year investigation by The Associated Press found that Ohio has the fifth highest number of such dams among the 45 states and Puerto Rico that complied with the AP’s public records requests.

The AP analysis identified more than 1,680 high-hazard dams across the United States rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition. The actual number is almost certainly higher, but some states declined to provide condition or hazard ratings for their dams while claiming exemptions to public record requests. Others simply haven’t rated all their dams due to lack of funding, staffing or authority to do so.

The AP’s database of individual dams shows hazard levels and condition ratings as of 2018. It’s possible that circumstances have changed since then.

In Ohio, the AP study found that 450 of the state’s 1,420 dams are considered high hazard. Of those, state inspectors had rated 124 in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of 2018, indicating that they needed repairs or other upgrades to be able to withstand a powerful flood. However, officials at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say that number has been reduced to 114 with ongoing work.

Of the high hazard dams in need of safety improvements, the AP found that almost half had not prepared emergency action plans as of last year detailing how to notify and evacuate nearby residents if the dam fails. Some dam owners are being referred to the state attorney general for enforcement action.

An AP review found that state dam inspections, in most cases needed every five years, were up to date.

Unlike some states, Ohio has increased both its spending and staffing for its dam safety program. It spent $1.8 million in fiscal year 2019, compared to $1.4 million in 2010, and ranked in the nation’s top 10 for funding for inspections.

Ohio has undertaken major dam projects such as the Buckeye Lake Dam restoration, completed in 2018 after a federal study warned of a potential catastrophic failure.

Jim Zehringer, who was Natural Resources director in Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration that ended in January, pointed with pride to the Buckeye Lake project and repair plans for 27 high-hazard dams owned by the state. The state has spent some $329 million on dam repair and replacement since 2011.

Mia Kannik, the dam safety program manager in the state Department of Natural Resources, said there have been “some issues” with the Muskingum dam. In addition to concerns about the gazebo, a 2017 state inspection report noted that the dam needed an emergency spillway and recommended that engineers prepare a map of the area that could be inundated if the dam fails.

Officials at the university some 70 miles (112.6 kilometers) east of Columbus say only one home sits within the dam’s inundation zone, and that the dam is being properly maintained.

Yet some students are worried that the dam could be vulnerable.

“We get a lot of flooding, and we’re concerned that the school hasn’t said anything about it,” said Sarah McElwain, a 19-year-old sophomore from Cleveland.

Kannick said the college discovered a sinkhole at the downstream end of the dam while doing weekly inspections and notified state authorities. Interim repair work to replace a section of pipe was done to reduce the risk of failure.

“They’re doing all the right things,” Kannik said of Muskingum College. “They’ve hired a very good engineer and they’re on top of it.”

Muskingum isn’t the only small Ohio college near a problematic dam.

The city of Circleville is downstream from a high-hazard, poor-condition dam at Hargus Lake in A.W. Marion State Park. If that 66-foot-tall earthen dam failed, water could surge through Ohio Christian University, the Pickaway County fairgrounds and homes and businesses in Circleville on its way to the Scioto River.

There’s an emergency action plan. Darrin Flick, director of the Pickaway County Emergency Management Agency said he’s set to notify any of Circleville’s 14,000 residents in the path of a flood through emergency alerts on their phones.

Still, neither Flick nor Kannik think there’s much chance the Hargus Lake Dam will fail. Kannik said it’s listed in poor condition because it needs work to meet higher standards for slope stability and flood containment.

“Today’s standards are different than when the dam was originally constructed,” Kannik said.

The state Department of Natural Resources put other dams it owns ahead of Hargus Lake when the state beefed up dam safety efforts at the beginning of this decade. Preliminary design work for dam upgrades has been completed, said Eric Heis, a department spokesman. The next steps are design, engineering and construction.

“Hopefully, it will be done in the next couple of years,” he said.


Sewell reported from Cincinnati. Caruso is the Columbus-based Ohio/Midwest investigations editor for GateHouse Media.


Follow Carr Smyth at https://www.twitter.com/jcarrsmyth , Sewell at https://www.twitter.com/dansewell and Caruso at https://www.twitter.com/dougcaruso

International Festival at Marshall promotes diversity, inclusion

HUNTINGTON — Vicki Cole, of Kenova, brought her granddaughter Hannah to the 56th annual International Festival at Marshall University on Saturday to continue teaching her about the different cultures in the world.

“I like to take her to events that promote diversity and inclusion,” Cole said. “We live in a global society today, so we must develop cultural understanding in a world that is increasingly multicultural.”

Cole’s granddaughter is 8 years old, and Cole thinks it’s important to start early.

“I hope we learn something from each table we visit today,” Cole said.

The event is West Virginia’s largest and longest-running international festival, featuring international foods, world music, dances and displays representing many countries and cultures. It was sponsored by the Office of International Student Services and took place in the Memorial Student Center on the Huntington campus.

“We live in a global world, so we need to learn about different cultures and environments,” said Jyotsna Patel, event coordinator and administrator for the Office of International Student Services at Marshall. “We must value and embrace diversity, and this festival does just that by bringing people together. We learn also that we have so much in common.”

The festival was free to attend. Students and campus organizations set up booths that gave patrons a glimpse into a country’s culture with photos and country-specific items.

Performances showcased international dances, music and traditional clothing during a world fashion show. Participating local restaurants sold a variety of food samples.

Patel said the festival promotes a global mindset to the Marshall community.

“We have students from at least 60 different countries attending Marshall University,” she said. “We want to promote diversity so that we have an inclusive campus.”

Nida Alastal, from Palestine near Jerusalem, set up a “Middle East” table with her friend from Libya.

“I have two children that attend Marshall University,” Alastal said. “So this event gives us a chance to teach others a little about our culture.”

Alastal said the women from her culture hand-make many clothing and decorative items.

“I wanted to show the beauty of these hand-made things,” she said.

Patel said while some students are from a different culture, all have things in common.

“We all love good food, we all love music and dance, and we hope this festival gives those attending a truly global experience,” she said. “The International Festival provides a relaxing atmosphere to make new friends and become acquainted with different cultures. Knowing and understanding each other is a great start to making the world a more accepting and harmonious place.”

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.