GUEST COLUMN: Engineers & contractors begin work on new Richwood schools 

By Susan Johnson

On Wednesday, January 25, six years, seven months and two days since the devastating flood of 2016, the Nicholas County Board of Education signed the contracts to begin work on the K-12 facility that will replace Richwood High School and Richwood Middle School.   On January 31, engineers and contractors held a pre-construction meeting at Cherry River Elementary, the site for the new schools. 

It’s finally happening. 

Seven classes have graduated from temporary pods, most without ever having a locker, a cafeteria, a school assembly, or a fully functional facility to call home.   The students and their teachers have  soldiered through all manner of disruption and adapted to all kinds of challenging circumstances.  At last they can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  

Later this spring, the Nicholas Board will accept bids for the larger complex proposed near Summersville that will include a comprehensive vocational center, middle school and high school.  Summersville Middle School was also razed after the flood.  

Artist rendering of the Glade Creek site by ZMM Architects. Picture from the Nicholas County Board of Education.

The new schools in Nicholas could be models for educational infrastructure in our country. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 “Report Card for American Infrastructure,” fifty-three percent of public school districts report the need to update or replace multiple building systems, including HVAC systems.   K-12 schools, especially public schools, are not that common in West Virginia.  But other states are discovering them to be sustainable,  efficient, and safe, with close ties to the local community.  

Here are a few of the benefits of a K-12 school. 

Cheaper to heat and cool.  The new building will be equipped with state-of-the-art HVAC equipment, windows, doors  and insulation to make it cheaper to heat by a mile compared to the three aged buildings being replaced.  

Easier to staff.  Teachers with multiple grade-level certifications will be able to fill in staffing gaps.   One art teacher for the whole building.  Foreign language beginning in first grade.  

Vertical alignment of curriculum.  Having all staff, preschool through high school, in the same facility will foster more effective vertical teams so teachers can share data on student performance and intervene where students need help.   With a more seamless transition from elementary to middle to high school, students who need to be accelerated can jump ahead.  Others who need remediation can get it without stigma.  

Efficient to operate.  The Richwood facility will have one kitchen to serve all three schools. One library.  One heating/cooling system. One waste treatment system.    One point of delivery for supplies and equipment.   

Easier for families.  Parents with children in different grades have one place to drop off and pick up their kiddos.  Siblings can be available to communicate with or help one another. Buses will also have simpler procedures that will save time and money.  

Better for social development.   While K-12 schools are designed to keep different grade levels separate, effective administrators use the mixed ages as an opportunity for social growth.  Older children volunteer to tutor and mentor younger students.  This gives them leadership opportunities, even job training.   Younger students can model their behavior after the student leaders and scholars in the older grades.  

More efficient staff development.  Imagine drawing on the expertise from teachers in twelve grade levels for staff development and professional learning communities. Teachers can cover for one another for staff development meetings.  Instructional strategies can be implemented across all grades. 

Creative options.   A brand new facility will be a clean slate for a multitude of options, some not even thought of yet. Richwood High School could be a magnet school for the arts or for AP and dual credit academic classes.  The schools could also be a haven for special education students, benefitting from the smaller, more family-like atmosphere.  

Artist rendering of the Richwood site by ZMM Architects. Picture from the Nicholas County Board of Education.

Teachers, students, parents and residents of the city of Richwood are excited to see construction begin.  It is a rare small town in West Virginia that gets a brand new middle school and high school right in its city limits. 

A community lost its lifeblood—its schools.  Now they are getting them back.  

EDITOR’S NOTE: Susan Johnson is a freelance writer living in Richwood. Portions of this column were published in the Nicholas Chronicle.  


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