By Aaron Payne
ELKINS, W. Va. – Students at Harman School in Randolph County will begin the 2014 school year in different locations after a unanimous decision was made by the Randolph County Board of Education during Tuesday night’s special session held at Elkins High School.
The reason for the action is because over the July 4 weekend, a large section of plaster fell from the ceiling in one of the rooms. The state Fire Marshal’s Office and architectural firm deemed the building was not safe until repairs can be made.
A venue change to the theater at Elkins High School for the meeting was requested in anticipation of a large crowd.
This proved to be a correct presumption.
Hundreds of students, parents and community members from Harman showed up to support the school and voice their concerns, which ranged from the future of the school itself to the lengthy bus rides when traveling to the alternative schools.
“The kids could be getting on the bus as early as 5 a.m., some getting off the buses as late as 6 p.m.,” Karin Huffman, a parent of four students at Harman said. “It makes for an extremely long day, especially for the younger students, some being as young as five years of age.”
The 150 students would be travelling from Harman to Elkins High, Elkins Middle, Midland Elementary and Jennings Randolph Elementary. Several facilities closer to Harman and others will be evaluated as possible temporary facilities.
Another concern brought up is this bus ride would affect the time students, and teachers, would have to do work outside of the classroom.
“It’s going to disallow [students] extra time in order to get their homework assignments done,” Dave Armentrout, a teacher at Harman said. “Or, actually, preparation even for the teachers because we’re ultimately the ones too that’s going to have to travel that distance and it may cut back on the time that we have to actually have in close contact with the students as well as plan for the next day’s events.”
Another concern which drove residents out in droves on Tuesday night was the fear this relocation would lead to the ultimate end of the Harman School.
However, in an executive session, the board amended the superintendent’s proposal so it would read he has authority to “develop a plan to temporarily relocate students to alternative educational facilities.”
“There was no language in that recommendation suggesting possibly closing Harman School,” Superintendent of Schools in Randolph County Terry George said. “That is not the goal of the administration nor the board members. Our goal is to make the necessary repairs to return the students of Harman back to their home school.”
The attention now turns to acquiring the estimated $175,000 needed to make the emergency repairs to get the students back to Harman and the $775,000 to remediate the entire facility.
Two anonymous donors kicked of the funding at the meeting with a check of $50,000 and $5,000.
“We got a good start tonight when we got commitments from donations inside totaling $55,000 and we have a commitment from the County Commission for another considerable amount of money,” George said. “So we feel that we’re probably halfway to where we need to make the emergency repairs.”
Besides the County Commission, other politicians representing the area are working to secure funding.
Members of the legislature attempted to contact officials back in Charleston to see what could be done on a state level. The talks were progressing Tuesday but stalled in the evening before the meeting.
“We were really, really thinking that [Tuesday] we’d have some funds that would be coming from Charleston to help us,” Delegate Denise Campbell (43rd District – Randolph County) said. “Not for sure exactly what happened that sort of put a wrench in that, but we are not going to stop at not having any assistance from Charleston.”
There are grants available the county can apply for, however most do not become available until after the school year starts on August 14.
A fund has been set up at Grant County Bank — which has seven locations in the area, including one in Harman — for people who would like to donate to the repair efforts.