ELKINS - A total of $55,000 was donated anonymously toward emergency repairs at Harman School during a special Randolph County Board of Education meeting attended by more than 300 people Tuesday.
During the meeting, BOE members voted to allow Superintendent of Schools Terry George to develop a plan to temporarily relocate Harman School students to other schools while the repairs are being made.
The passage of the recommendation also authorizes George to seek funding from any available source to defer the cost of the emergency repairs, and allows him to seek other repairs calculated to prevent further damage to the facility and make the building safe and habitable.
Young Harman School students show support for their school Tuesday during a special meeting of the Randolph County Board of Education at the Elkins High School auditorium. Anonymous donations totaling $55,000 were given for emergency repairs at the school. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart)
Seven people came before the board asking them not to close Harman School during the meeting, held at Elkins High School's auditorium to accommodate the crowd.
Some Harman residents fought back tears as they listened to speaker Kim Landis, also teary-eyed, talk about events leading up to what she described as "the day many had been hoping would never come" - the day residents discovered the damage inside the school.
"The 4th of July celebration was a great weekend, featuring a parade and some of the best fireworks - everyone was having a wonderful time," Landis said. "Then on Monday, we learned about the collapse of the ceiling in Harman School and then our school was determined unsafe. There is not enough money to complete the needed repairs - all this about three weeks before school starts."
An entire plaster ceiling fell in one of the school's classrooms during the July 4 weekend, bringing down two tons of material. No one was present at the time in the school, which was built in the 1950s. MSES Consultants estimated repairing the ceiling at $175,000, and Harman School was deemed unsafe for student occupancy.
Last Wednesday, BOE members traveled to Harman to get a firsthand view of the damage at the school. They were provided with a written report of damages and repair estimates.
At Tuesday's meeting, Landis said she has heard seniors saying "this was supposed to be our year. Our baseball team would be state champions." She said she thought about her grandchild, who is a special needs student, and wondered how he will be treated at another school.
"Harman students are strong and smart and I ask you to please welcome them," Landis said. "I ask the officials in Charleston who are in charge of money - I hope you are listening."
Landis told George and the BOE members she is sorry for the position they are in, and thanked them for their help and understanding during the hard decisions they have to make.
Landis asked everyone in the audience who attended Harman School, taught there or had a child at the school to stand up. Nearly everyone in the audience stood.
The crowd then whooped with delight and applauded as Landis announced her son, Alex, was coming to the stage to present $50,000 in anonymous donations to be used for the repairs on Harman School.
Many audience members wore Harman School shirts and the school's colors. Young students holding signs reading "We love our school," "Save our school" and "Keep us at Harman" jumped up and down after hearing the news of the donation.
Later in the meeting, Harman Mayor Jerry Teter presented the BOE with an anonymous donation for $5,000 toward the repairs.
Randolph County Commission President Chris See also addressed the BOE, saying he and the other commissioners were going to look into rollover monies to determine how much the county could give to help with the school repairs.
Harman School teacher David Armentrout and principal Tammie Daniels each made presentations detailing alternative plans to place students in other locations in Harman, or in Elkins schools with Harman staff, until emergency repairs could be completed.
Eight of the 12 senior students from Harman attended Tuesday's meeting. One of those seniors, Alexis Cooper, said she has attended Harman School since kindergarten.
"I am scared of what the board's decision will be tonight - we are all scared," Cooper said. "We are scared of losing our school. I will be home-schooled if the school closes or if we have to go to another school outside of Harman."
Cooper said she was surprised about the donations for the school.
"It makes you feel great to know someone cares," she said. "I was proud when almost everyone in the audience stood up and cheered."
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, and Harman parents Karen Huffman and Sara Spencer also spoke before the board.
Board member Harvey Taylor said he could tell students at Harman School one thing.
"Me, as a board member, I will not vote to (permanently) close Harman School," Taylor said, amid clapping and whistling from the audience.
Board President Lisa Wamsley said the decision was one the board did not take lightly.
"I believe that someone earlier said we did not want to be in this position," Wamsley said. "We are very concerned about safety and one of our concerns is that some of the alternative sites (proposed to be used in Harman) are a safety concern when farming children out to other sites. We have heard there are children with special needs, and we worry about them in emergencies and getting to a nurse or someone to assist in helping them. This is a temporary move and it is not a vote to close the school, but it is a vote to keep the kids safe.
"Our legislators - Delegate Campbell, Delegate (Bill) Hartman, Sen. (Clark) Barnes and Sen. (Greg) Tucker - along with our superintendent have worked endless hours trying to get this funded," Taylor said. "I want to thank my superintendent - he has went beyond to look for funding for Harman School, and I know he will not quit until he finds the funding. He does not want to close Harman School."
Board Member Donna Auvil thanked the students, staff and community members from Harman for showing interest in the school and the education of students.
"I don't take this lightly either - I have lost a lot of sleep over this," Auvil said. "For the safety of the students, they have to be in other schools. But this is not a vote for school closure."
Following the meeting, George said the next step will be to determine which elementary schools in Elkins the Harman elementary students will be sent to temporarily. He said the Harman teenagers will go to Elkins Middle School and Elkins High School.
"We will be looking at all those and come up with a plan where we can comfortably be able to accommodate all of the students and get them situated in classes," George said. "We have a contingency plan for that, and we will begin finalizing that plan this week."
George said Harman School staff and teachers will all retain their positions.
"They will be utilized in schools that house the current Harman students," George said. "They will be where they are needed."
The Harman School report, compiled by MSES Consultants, says the repairs need to be done immediately, prior to school beginning in August. The report states the old ceilings need to come down for student safety, and then ceilings must be replaced and lights and fans reinstalled.
MSES recommends that the old plaster ceilings be demolished and new suspended ceilings be installed in their place. The critical areas identified in the report include the kitchen, cafeteria, restrooms and principal's office suite.
Harman School currently serves approximately 170 students from pre-k through 12th grade. There are approximately 28 staff members at the school.