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State funds for school expansion doubtful

For the second year in a row, Kanawha school officials are asking the state School Building Authority to fund an expansion at John Adams Middle School.

But they aren't all optimistic that their request will be granted.

The county wants $1 million from the authority's Major Improvement Project program, according to documents from the county and the authority. Another $128,000 from the county would go toward the addition.

Superintendent Ron Duerring said the packed school is using seven portable classrooms to accommodate all of its students. It's safer to have students in brick-and-mortar classrooms, he said.

To qualify for the state funding, a project must address student health and safety or space issues.

The authority receives $5 million a year to distribute through the Major Improvement Project program and cannot award more than $1 million toward any one project, Executive Director Mark Manchin said.

Chuck Wilson, facilities director for the county, said the John Adams addition would include at least four classrooms - two on the ground floor and two on the second floor. Ideally, the county would build one classroom for each of the portables it's currently using, Wilson said.

The current enrollment is 740, the largest of any middle school in the county, according to data provided last week by the school system.

The addition would accommodate a projected increase in enrollment to 770 by 2018, according to the report. The project also would upgrade the school's fire alarm and other systems, Wilson said.  

The authority has received 30 Major Improvement Project funding requests totaling more than $17 million. Kanawha County was one of five to ask for the maximum $1 million.

Manchin said the amount of money a county is willing to contribute to a project definitely plays a part in whether the board allocates state funds.  

Wilson thinks the John Adams addition is important but he thinks recent authority action makes funding unlikely.

"I would say that this project would probably be one of the most needed projects in the state, but I don't know if it'll get the consideration it deserves," Wilson said.

Kanawha County recently asked the authority for an additional $1 million for the new Edgewood area elementary school, which is now under construction. The authority already had pledged more than $10 million toward the project, and a few board members questioned why Kanawha County had capped the amount of money it could receive from its local excess levy.

During the September meeting, authority board member Tom Lange said he thought it was irresponsible of Kanawha County to cap the excess levy - an additional layer of property tax that provides millions of dollars annually for the county school system.

Although Lange and board member Wade Linger were the only two board members to vote against the additional funding for the Edgewood school, Wilson thinks the board's message does not bode well for future funding.

Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw said he also was not optimistic about funding for the John Adams project. He thinks the stance of Lange and others is "outrageous" but the county will continue to look for other funding arrangements if the project isn't approved.

More classrooms at John Adams are one of the avenues the county is considering to alleviate overcrowding at schools in South Hills. After officials confirmed they were also discussing the idea of moving Alum Creek and Ruthlawn elementary school students out of the John Adams attendance zone, parents and others voiced their displeasure.

About 70 parents and others who might be affected by the redistricting came to a board meeting last week. Several parents told the board they hoped it would consider asking county voters to authorize borrowing money for school projects via a bond sale. They also suggested raising private funds.

Thaw said Monday he favors the idea of adding onto John Adams. But he won't support making that happen with bond funds, which would be repaid through temporarily higher property taxes.

"I believe the people of Kanawha County are taxed right now to the max," Thaw said. "I am never going to vote for a bond issue because the people can't take any more bonds."

Thaw didn't know how exactly the county could fund the addition but thought it would find a way other than tax increases. Given how adamant people have been about the addition, he thought they might "join me at ringing the bell at the kettle" in the search for funding.

Manchin said his staff is researching all of the projects that have been submitted to the authority. He said he did not want to speculate on the prospects of the John Adams project but said the board is aware of the overcrowding concerns.

But he also said the wherewithal of larger counties to put money toward projects so the authority can provide more help to smaller, rural counties plays a part in the decision-making process.  

The authority will discuss the projects and award funds during its December meeting.

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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