Romney residents look for ways to keep schools for deaf, blind - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

UPDATE: State Board of Ed decides to keep schools for deaf, blind in Romney WV

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UPDATE:

The West Virginia Board of Education approved a resolution during its monthly meeting in Charleston this week to keep the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Romney.

Earlier this year, the board began discussing whether the Romney location was the most efficient spot for the school, and when a facilities plan was developed by the board of education and the School Building Authority, the potential renovation price tag was more than $100 million.

"The state board visited the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind last month, and it became very obvious to us that the community of Romney is the right place for the schools and the students," Board President Gayle Manchin said. "The care shown by the Romney citizens for every individual student and adult associated with the schools provides the underlying strength and fiber for the backbone of support necessary for the success of the overall mission of the schools."

West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Superintendent Lynn Boyer has developed a plan to include various stakeholders, the community and lawmakers to modernize the programs and facilities at the school.

 

By MARLA PISCIOTTA

For The State Journal

ROMNEY — A second meeting in less than a month took place in Romney to try to keep the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind from moving.

The town meeting that took place Oct. 3 at the Romney Fire Company was organized by Sen. Donald H. Cookman, D-Hampshire, and local businesswoman Patty Anderson. The purpose was to get public input on how the community could help keep the schools from moving.

The economic impact of such a move would extensively damage the community.

Eighty-one percent of the staff at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind resides in Hampshire County.

The schools employ between 185 and 190 staff members with an annual salary of $11 million. The staff includes all levels, from house parents to upper-level administrations. In addition, the overall spending impact of the school on the area is estimated to be $25 million.

State school staff, students, local business owners, lawmakers and representatives of numerous entities throughout the county voiced their opinions and ideas.

Jason Hicks, president of Hampshire County Development Authority, said he came "on behalf of the development authority in support of the schools, not only due to their economic benefit to our community but because of the service and facilitation of special needs around the state."

Hampshire County Commission President Bob Hott said the commission fully supports the schools remaining in Romney.

The subject of moving the schools surfaced at the Jan. 9 state Board of Education meeting.

During that meeting, then-board president Wade Linger pointed out the state didn't have unlimited resources and wondered what would be most cost efficient — renovating and rebuilding or relocating.

Lynn Boyer, superintendent of the Schools for Deaf and Blind, said at the time she was not prepared to answer questions about the possibility of moving but would return with more information.

Since that time, ZMM Architects of Charleston said the cost could top $100 million to renovate and rebuild the existing campus. A move would create even more costs.

Architect Dave Ferguson said his firm looked at properties in other areas such as Morgantown, Flatwoods, Charleston and Huntington.

Ferguson said his firm took into consideration new land infrastructure such as gas, electric, water and sewer. 

"All that would be additional costs," he added.

In early February, Boyer put the WVSDB improvement plan on hold until 2014.

Boyer said there was not enough time to put together a comprehensive plan.

At that time, Linger agreed, saying one month was not enough time to put together the information that was needed.

Boyer wanted all groups with a stake in schools to have input on plans and decision making, and that spurred the two recent meetings.

The first meeting had more than 200 people in attendance. It was chaired by the state board of education.  The board allotted time for anyone to talk about their concerns and opinions regarding the schools.

Cookman told the crowd of nearly 90 people Oct. 3 that the state board would be meeting two or three more times before a decision will be made on the schools.

"It may be a good idea for a large group to attend one of those meetings," Cookman said. "We want our schools to remain in Hampshire County."

Several people gave their opinions on what should and should not be done at the schools.

Gerald Mathias, president of the Hampshire County Board of Education and contracted employee of the School for the Deaf, made several comments about the community learning sign language. Mathias said maybe a classroom for ASL could be set up at Romney Elementary School. He also mentioned job-to-work with supervision for the schools.

One of the key issues mentioned was lack of transportation to area shopping places from the schools.

Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, shared the many things the community already does for the schools.  

One man spoke up to say everything that had been discussed could be done anywhere. 

"We need to know what we can do to keep the schools here in Romney," he said.

That discussion led to asking about the $100 million renovation rebuilding costs.

"You must understand that the members of the state board are very strong business people," Boyer said. "This is a very expensive project."

Boyer said the majority of the board had not stepped foot on the campus nor had any of them been on an extensive tour of the facilities until last month.

"I think they had their eyes opened on the visit," she said. "They came to realize there is a reason for the schools in Romney. 

"There is no compelling reason as data comes in that it would be more cost efficient to move out of Romney."

Nearly everyone attending the meeting signed a petition to keep the schools in Romney. A second petition was previously signed by 680 people. Both petitions will be submitted to the state board of education.

"This community has a history with these students," said Hicks of the Development Authority.
"The community is designed to handle their needs. The county board of education also has a history with the kids and has the benefit of knowing and coordinating the needs of these students."

A follow up meeting will be scheduled in the near future.