While growing up in Monongalia County, I heard from friends about the state of the neighboring county’s schools. We knew not to complain about our own schools. It was depressing to hear that the students didn’t have the basic facilities that we took advantage of everyday.
I didn’t know how bad the students actually had it until we recently made the trek to Preston County to report on the recently passed $39.6 million bond. It was shocking to see whole wings of schools closed because of the unsafe conditions of the buildings.
Two years ago the State Board of Education had to take charge of Preston County because of the conditions of the buildings. That’s when they brought Superintendent Larry Parsons in. He had actually gotten bonds passed in several other West Virginia counties, such as Mason, that were in a similar state of disrepair.
Until reporting on this story, it was a mystery to me as to why the residents of Preston County decided not to pass the bond. Apparently when the last bond was passed, in 1989, there were hard feelings after school consolidation. These feelings seem strange to me, but I guess it makes sense because Preston County is full of small, tight-knit communities.
My favorite part of reporting on this story was look on the principals, teachers, and students’ faces when they spoke of the upcoming renovations. It’s a little thing, but might improve school spirit and help a little with Preston’s tough economy.
Parents excited about new Preston County Bond
By: John Cassell and Tim McCollum
Twenty years ago, when Jeremy Bolyard, a lifelong resident of Preston County, went to Tunnelton-Denver Elementary, the heat didn’t always work. Bricks fell out of the walls and entire wings had to be shut down for the safety of students.
“My elementary school was really bad,” said Bolyard.
Soon his two daughters will attend the same school. But he isn’t worried, because the girls will be some of the first students to reap the benefits of a brand new building.
On November 2, 2010, the Preston County Board of Education passed a $39.6 million bond to build new schools and renovate others. The bond also comes with an additional $24 million from the state School Building Authority. Fifty-three percent of voters were in favor of the bond. It was the first to pass in over twenty years.
“It is nice to know that Chloe and Mariah won’t have to deal with the way that the schools are now. No one wants to have their kids exposed to asbestos and all that stuff,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average age of Preston county schools is 63 years; 21 years older than the national average of 42 years.
Tunnelton-Denver Elementary was built in 1952.
Since 1973, eight bonds were proposed and were all rejected until 1989, when an $8.8 million bond was passed to help renovate three schools and build two, including Preston High School. Much of the opposition can be attributed to residents who disagreed with the consolidation of many schools into just a few.
A similar pattern of rejected bonds resurfaced from 1989 until the new $36.6 million passed last month.
Larry Parsons, superintendent of Preston County schools for the past year, played a major role in convincing residents, who are primarily senior citizens, to stand in agreement with the bond.
“You look for those who were denied a voice in the past. You convince senior citizens that this is the time to invest because (they) want to be more secure,” he said. “You don’t want what you’ve worked for all your life, primarily your home or your farm, to be devalued.”
He also emphasized on the value of recreation when trying to get people on board: “They (residents) don’t drive to Morgantown or Charleston or Pitt. They go to things around their community schools that their children or grandchildren are here to present to them that are most precious.”
The new Tunnelton-Denver school will be combined with students from Preston Middle School and will accommodate approximately 346 students from pre-K to eighth grade.
Bolyard, who rejected a job promotion to stay in Preston County, is overjoyed that his girls will have an opportunity for a better learning experience. National research done by Glen Earthman, education expert and author of Planning Educational Facilities: What Educators Need to Know, shows that there is a direct correlation between conditions of facilities and achievement results of children.
“We (him and his wife) knew that we wanted kids and we wanted to be somewhere that had decent schools for them to go to,” he said.
The new bond will be paid over 15 ½ years.
According to Superintendent Parsons, the initial work on the first major projects will begin this summer and will continue over a three to seven year period.
Central Preston Middle School, Tunnelton-Denver Elementary and South Preston Middle School will all get new buildings. Other of the bond include renovations to every school in Preston County, including a new sports complex for Preston High School.
“There’s an internal euphoria about what’s been completed,” Parsons said.
*Links for additional information: *
Preston County Board of Education
Brief history of education in Preston County
Preston County Economic Development Authority
An article detailing the State Board of Education’s takeover of Preston County.
A story published by WBOY which announced the passing of the bond.