Students can expect a construction-free school year

NEW CUMBERLAND – For the first time since 2010, students in Hancock County will start the new school year without any major construction projects competing for their attention.

Students will return to class on Wednesday. Teachers began the 2014-15 school year on Monday.

Superintendent Suzan Smith is reveling in the fact that the construction projects tied to the 2010 bond call are behind her.

“It’s a good feeling to know that they’re all completed and the students can enjoy (the buildings),” Smith said. “I have to give the students and the faculty a lot of credit because they have had to work with construction going on around them.”

The last project to be completed was the construction of Weirton Elementary School, which was dedicated on Aug. 10. The building will serve more than 900 students from pre-kindergarten to the fourth grade, replacing Weirton Heights, Broadview and Liberty elementary schools.

All that remains of the bond call projects is the demolition of the three old Weirton elementary school buildings this fall, Smith said.

Ron Blatt, project manager for Project and Construction Services Inc. of Wheeling, told the school board recently that the $26 million project came in under budget.

“For a bond call project of this size to be under budget – any board of education would be pleased to have the results you had. I can’t say enough about it,” Blatt said.

The cost included construction, land acquisition, site work, architecture and construction management fees, and “soft” costs such as insurance and permits, he said.

Board President Jerry Durante credited the voters of Hancock County for passing the $37 million bond levy in November 2010, which prompted a $19 million match from the West Virginia School Building Authority.

“I’m still amazed that the people in Hancock County passed this because these have been hard times,” he said.

Durante also gave credit to Smith. “It’s been a real challenge, but she’s seen it through,” he said. “People need to realize – we did every school in this county.”

In addition to the new school, the bond levy paid for the construction of multi-sports complexes at Oak Glen and Weir high schools; a new wrestling room at Oak Glen Middle School; major renovation and additions to Allison and New Manchester elementary schools; new science labs and restrooms for the high schools; and new heating, ventilating and air conditioning for the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center.

The lack of construction activity, however, doesn’t mean that the new school year will be an uneventful one. Here are some other changes facing Hancock County Schools:

* Fourteen Weirton school buses will now be based out of the New Cumberland bus garage as a cost-saving measure, despite the objections of some bus drivers, and the high school and middle school bus routes will be consolidated.

* Oak Glen High School has a new principal – David Smith – and two new assistant principals – Kevin Logue and Carla Carinci-Bell. Logue was a special education teacher at OGHS, and Carinci-Bell was an assistant principal at Weir Middle School.

Smith, 45, comes to the head principal’s job with one year of experience as an assistant principal at OGHS, seven years as an assistant at OGMS and two years at Weir Middle.

Previously, he taught special education for two years at Allison Elementary and eight years at OGHS, where he also coached basketball.

“I have a lot of ties to the school and to the community. I’ve really wanted to be a part of the community my whole life, so it’s been a nice transition for me,” said Smith, who graduated from OGHS in 1987.

* This is the first school year in which West Virginia districts have up to 48 weeks to reach the required 180 instructional days and to make up any days lost to weather. In 2014-15, Hancock County Schools decided to have more out-of-school days “built in” to lessen the chances of the school year going long.

* Hancock County’s three elementary schools will have prevention resources officers (PRO) assigned to them for the first time since the PRO program was introduced in 1998.

Hancock County is believed to be the first school district in West Virginia to assign officers to elementary schools. They are Hancock County sheriff’s deputies: Brian Hissam (Weirton Elementary); Scott Gittings (Allison Elementary); and Doug Wade (New Manchester Elementary).

The other resource officers are Deputy James McGaffick (OGHS) and Deputy Brian Cunningham (OGMS).

* The Common Core State Standards Initiative continues to be implemented at the class level. “We’re phasing it in right now,” Smith said.

* This is the second year for the trimester schedule at the county high schools. OGHS Principal David Smith said the schedule has been “tweaked” to work better this year.

“Me being here for a year definitely gave me an understanding of the trimester schedule, not that it’s an easy schedule to work with. We were able to do some things with it,” he said.

* The school district expects to launch its Hancock County Cyber Academy, believed to be the first public online school in West Virginia, in the second trimester.