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Official gives cost to move Romney schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It would cost close to $20 million more to move the state schools for the Deaf and the Blind from its location in Romney than it would to rebuild and renovate, according to an architect.

David Ferguson, a principal and architect with ZMM Architects and Engineers of Charleston, said it could cost close to $100 million to build the schools in a different location, compared to the roughly $82 million price tag expected for the project planned at the Romney site.

"Financially, it would be my recommendation to stay," Ferguson said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Ferguson has worked on the schools' Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan for the past 18 months. In examining the plan - the 10-year guide for school facility projects required of all school systems - Ferguson focused on building anew in Romney.

However, the idea of moving the school came up during a recent state Board of Education meeting.

Following nearly an hour of discussion about the future of the schools, the board asked Superintendent Lynn Boyer about the feasibility of moving the campus. She told the board she had not considered the idea but would do so and make a presentation in February.

"This is a decision, made one way or another, that involves many people. I think we all have to just wait for the board to see the information, and then we decide, depending on what they want to do, who to involve further," Boyer said Tuesday in a phone interview.

"And recognize this would be a huge decision, and they would not make it lightly," she continued.

After speaking with board members, Boyer said she asked Ferguson to start researching a potential move.

Ferguson said the schools serve 123 students on a tract of more than 70 acres, and he estimated any new site would have to be at least 30 acres. The current proximity to Romney also lets teachers take students into town for lessons. Ferguson said blind students could learn to cross the street there, for example.  

A new site would have to be fairly large but also near a town. He said he looked at some sites near Morgantown, Charleston and Huntington, but nothing appeared to be a cheaper alternative to the current plan.

There's more to a campus move than just the final dollar amount, Ferguson added.

He said research shows it takes time for teachers and students to begin performing at their normal level after a move. That can cause a lot of unnecessary stress, he said.

Boyer said she understands why the concept of moving the schools would garner attention. The schools have been in Romney since 1870, so a shift would hurt the economies of both Romney and the new locale.

She wants to focus on improving facilities. None of the 19 buildings on campus are less than 20 years old, and some have been around since the school opened. Ferguson said improvements have been delayed so long that it would be cheaper to tear down most of the structures and build new facilities than to renovate.

"We understand from our perspective the needs for renovations on our campus on many levels: basic infrastructure, certainly face-lifting to make the schools current and appealing to students and families, to have buildings that are going to meet the needs of students now, not the needs of students for instruction and career training 50 years ago," Boyer said.

During the long conversation at the last board meeting, Boyer also said she thought some deaf or blind students not attending the school were not receiving adequate services at the county level. An update to her campus could lead to more of those students learning about the programs at the schools.

While the schools need to be rebuilt or moved, Boyer recognizes either alternative is a massive endeavor.  

"We're very invested in that goal, but we certainly are pragmatists. We have to work with the board, and we have to work with the Legislature with our goal in mind," Boyer said. "I think that's the prudent but honest way to go forward."

The school recently received close to $1 million from the state School Building Authority for a small project, but it's going to need a large chunk of cash from the Legislature for any major capital project.

Ferguson and Boyer said it's up to the state board to sign off on the scope of the project before any funding decisions can be made. Ferguson hopes some federal funds or private dollars might be available for the project as well, but he didn't say anything was in the works.

The project would take between three and five years to complete whether it's in Romney or somewhere else, Ferguson said.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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