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The Wayne County Board of Education hosted the first of two public hearings concerning the consolidation of Genoa and Dunlow Elementary schools in Wayne County.

GENOA — “We like our school.”

Those four words, spoken by a Genoa Elementary student, explained much of what more than 100 people — many dressed in black shirts reading “Genoa Indian Pride” — were feeling as they packed into the Genoa Elementary School gymnasium Monday evening for the first of two public hearings to discuss the Wayne County Board of Education’s proposal to consolidate Genoa and Dunlow elementary schools.

More than a dozen people spoke their comments, frustrations and suggestions to the board members present. All public comments and questions were fielded by Superintendent Todd Alexander, per his request, and board members did not engage in any discussions during the meeting.

Many parents pleaded for board members to reconsider the proposal because of concerns for their children and other students, while school faculty fought hard to reason with the board to keep the doors at Genoa open, commonly referencing a facility evaluation compiled by the West Virginia School Building Authority.

Specific areas of improvement, including safety and general building condition, were used to create the current proposal to abandon the current building in Genoa and open a consolidated school at the Dunlow site.

Genoa Principal Tony Clay was the first to make mention of what he called an outdated report, followed by specifics on how the school building has improved in the past decade, including new roofing on the main building and gymnasium, new exterior doors, a switch to public water from well water, improved heating and air throughout the building.

“(The report) had many outdated data points, facts and numbers for both schools because the report was completed in 2009-2010,” said Clay. “This information is very misleading to the public and our board members concerning dollar amounts and facility needs at both schools.”

He, and others, believe the building in Genoa is in much better shape as compared to the one in Dunlow to accommodate both student bodies. Clay reported to board members that Genoa Elementary, at full capacity, could house up to 220 students.

The combined student enrollment at both schools is currently 131. Genoa’s current capacity rating is 151 students because some rooms at the school are not designated as classrooms, according to Clay.

Additionally, many people expressed concern about Dunlow’s school building being located entirely in a flood zone. The building has flooded four times since 1995, according to a report presented to the board Monday.

One faculty member suggested Dunlow students be brought north to Genoa instead of the other way around, including in her suggestion that all students with a Genoa ZIP code attached to their address be required to attend Genoa Elementary and those students with addresses listed south of Dunlow be relocated to Crum PreK-8 — a plan that would involve moving some district boundaries in those areas and would effect student enrollment numbers at other schools like Wayne Elementary and Fort Gay PreK-8.

“We don’t want people to be frustrated with us for wanting to have this discussion. In many other areas these schools likely would have been consolidated a long time ago,” Alexander said. “This board and previous boards have been very generous and supportive of our smaller schools.”

A second and final public hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday, is now scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday evening at Dunlow Elementary when board members will hear final comments from the public and vote on the proposal.

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

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