FEMA commits to replacing five schools destroyed in June flood

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FEMA commits to replacing five schools destroyed in June flood
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

Nearly five months after the June Flood, state officials have a commitment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for rebuilds of five schools heavily damaged in the storm and its aftermath.

The schools that will be relocated are Herbert Hoover High School and Clendenin Elementary School in Kanawha County and Richwood High School and Richwood Middle School in Nicholas County.

At Summersville Middle School in Nicholas County, funding will be provided for reconstruction.

“That’ll be a substantial amount of funding that will be coming to the state to assist these counties in replacing those damaged schools,” said Jimmy Gianato, director of West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Moving the schools out of the floodway and floodplain will also minimize the effects of future building damage, Gianato said, and get students, teachers and school staff members “out of harm’s way.”

Oversight for the school construction falls to the state School Building Authority.

“They will take the lead and help the counties work through all the state policies and procedures and make sure all the codes are followed,” he said.

For the four schools being relocated, county officials largely have flexibility in site selection, according to Gianato who was a guest on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“As long as they put them in a location that’s acceptable under the FEMA guidelines, then it’s their call.”

Gianato provided no timeline for construction of the new schools and no estimates of potential total costs.

Currently, portable classrooms for temporary classroom space are in the process of installed for Clendenin Elementary, Herbert Hoover High, Richwood High, Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle.

On Thursday, bids were being reviewed for the largest of the temporary installations — the short-term campus to be placed at Elkview Middle School for Herbert Hoover High School.

Gianato confirmed the completion date for the Hoover modulars remains Jan. 2.

While 67 West Virginia schools sustained some form of damage during the June 23 flood and in its aftermath, the five schools listed above were left with “substantial” damage or destroyed altogether.

As of now, FEMA has committed to covering 75 percent of the costs of the replacement and reconstructed schools with the state responsible for the remaining 25 percent. The state’s share was part of the $85 million allocated for flood recovery efforts during a Special Session in September.

Once West Virginia meets a threshold of more than $200 million in storm damages, which will include costs for the replacement schools along with portable classrooms, the FEMA share jumps to 90 percent.

Gianato said the Mountain State is on track to meet that threshold.

At that point, “The money that we have spent at the 75-25 split will be reduced to the 10 percent and so that’ll be a significant savings to the state as we continue to work through this event.”

“We have to look to the future and, as we replace these schools, we want to make sure that we’re looking at long-term solutions,” he said.

“This is a golden opportunity. It’s not very often that we will receive this type of funding to replace this many schools.”