Public hearings for the closure of Gauley Bridge Elementary School will be held on Nov. 2 and 3, and a final vote by the Fayette County Board of Education on the closure is planned for Nov. 4.

Gauley Bridge Elementary School is targeted for closure at the end of the current school year.

At a Sept. 14 meeting, the Fayette County Board of Education voted to publish legal advertisement related to the pending closure of the K-5 elementary school, as well as making the closure document available for public review.. The closure proposal is in keeping with a recent update of the county's 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, which was adopted in late 2020.

In the closure, current GBES students will move about 10 miles west to consolidate with Valley PK-8 in Smithers starting with the 2022-23 school term.

The GBES closure, if it goes through as proposed, would leave Valley PK-8 as the only remaining school building operational in the county's Valley District.

A segment of the reasons and supporting data for the closure reads: "As a result of an ongoing decline in student enrollment, restrictive state laws and policies governing special education class sizes, mandates for new/additional programs and curricular offerings, and aging facilities, it is necessary to continue to downsize the system in an effort to continue quality educational programs for the students of Fayette County and to remain in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations."

For that reason, the closure of GBES at the end of the 2021-22 term was recommended. Public hearing dates are scheduled for Nov. 2 (Gauley Bridge) and Nov. 3 (Valley), with both set for 6 p.m. Possible hearing continuation scenarios are addressed in the document. The final vote on the closure is planned for Nov. 4.

Dwindling enrollment and the prohibitive cost of making various physical infrastructure improvements to the Gauley Bridge building, which was constructed in 1976, were the among the primary factors presented in the document to shutter the school. The document also pointed to an overall decline (7.7 percent decrease from 2010 to 2020) in Fayette County population, Fayette County financial constraints, maximizing utilization and operating school capacities, and projected educational program improvement analysis.

Fayette County Schools experienced a 17.1 percent decline in enrollment (6,827 students to 5,659 students) from 2010-11 to 2020-21.

At Gauley Bridge, the cumulative decline has been 71 percent in the 10-year period, according to the document. Second-month GBES enrollment in October 2020 was 77, while the enrollment at the time the closure document was prepared (not the official second-month figure for 2021, which is still pending) was 52.

In 2012-13, GBES enrollment was 180. During a 10-year cycle, it peaked at 207 in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. It dipped below the 100 mark at 94 in 2019-20 before eventually moving to the current unofficial total of 52 students.

Physical appraisals of Gauley Bridge Elementary and Valley PK-8 in 2019 revealed HVAC issues, lack of a secure entrance, and flooring, lighting and door issues at GBES. Valley had similar issues with HVAC, floor, doors and electrical issues. Many of the issues at Valley have since been addressed, as a new safe school entrance is complete, a new state-of-the-art PK/K Career Tech (CTE) academy is complete, and electrical work is done. A new roof and HVAC are included in planned CEFP projects within the next two years. HVAC replacement is "clearly a need for this (Valley) facility." The HVAC cost is pegged at $3,837,000, while the roof is projected to cost $882,000.

Costs for renovations to bring GBES up to code would be $1,422,896, according to the document. GBES has a high energy usage index (EUI) of 76, while Valley's is 54. EUI is a basic measure of a facility's energy performance on a per square foot basis. The higher the EUI, the less efficient a building is.

According to the 2020-30 CEFP, Gauley's operating capacity is 202, and the current enrollment of 52 reaches just 26 percent utilization. Valley PK-8's operating capacity is 1,030, and the current enrollment of 509 achieves 49 percent utilization. No Valley renovations will be required to accommodate the Gauley Bridge students.

The move to Smithers, the document notes, will allow Gauley Bridge students enhanced educational opportunities, including access to the PK/K Career Tech (CTE) academy, instruction from full-time staff members in music, art, wellness and counseling, access to a STEM/STEAM lab, and access to health care in New River Health's facility in the Smithers Gateway Center.

The current staff for GBES features one principal, 6.4 teachers and four service personnel. Combined with current Valley PK-8 staff numbers, there are three administrators, 40 teachers and 21 service personnel. Anticipated staff after the closure will reflect a decrease of one administrator, five teachers and three service personnel.

If the Gauley Bridge building closes, it will be given to a 501(c)(3) organization, as has been FCS procedure.

The closure documents were said to be presented to the principals of the two schools, as well as the LSIC chairperson of each, last week.

The original was posted Sept. 17 at the superintendent's office, 111 Fayette Ave., Fayetteville WV 25840 and will remain posted until Oct. 29. Written materials regarding the proposed closure can be submitted to the superintendent's office by the end of business on Nov. 3.

In May 2021, the Fayette board voted to close both Divide and Ansted elementary schools, which were both built in the 1950s. At the time of the vote, those closures were scheduled for the end of the 2022-23 school term, and the student population from those two schools are expected to combine in the proposed Midland Trail Elementary School, a PK-5 school eyed on the campus of Midland Trail High School in Hico. Superintendent Gary Hough said recently that would likely extend to 2024.

At the time of the Ansted-Divide closure vote, the estimated price tag for the new structure in Hico was in the $15 to $18 million range, school officials said. The anticipated cost had risen from its original estimate due to inflation.

Fayette County Schools officials plan to request funding to build the new school at a meeting of the state School Building Authority later this year. And, Hough has said the school system aims to have monies from an ongoing capital improvement fund to complement any potential award from the SBA. The SBA funding is not guaranteed to occur.

The current Meadow Bridge Elementary will also eventually be eliminated to help accommodate the planned Meadow Bridge Regional PK-12 School.

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