Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kim Miller views the proposed 15-year, $42 million bond issue that will appear on the ballot on May 8 as an opportunity, and she’s happy to explain her reasons why.
“When you are a teacher and a principal, you are aware of what your school needs, but as a superintendent, you come to know what all the schools need, and right now there are a lot of physical and educational improvements that will give us a chance to bring our schools up to date,” said Miller, who began in the system’s top position on July 1, 2016. “And one of the reasons why I pushed to make this bond for 15 years is that we’ll need to do another upgrade in that amount of time.
“That’s how quickly we’re moving now as far as curriculum, school safety and with facilities upgrades,” she continued. “It has to do with the pace of technological advancements and because of the fact that some buildings are pretty old at this point.”
If approved by Ohio County voters, taxpayers will receive more secured entrances with new doors and windows, a change to LED lighting in an effort to make the 13 buildings more energy efficient, kitchen upgrades and expansions, and roof repairs and two roof replacements.
And that’s only to mention the exterior work that is planned.
“There are four primary goals involved with the projects we have planned, and they included updating safety and security measures, creating innovative learning spaces, updating infrastructure and improving our energy efficiency,” the superintendent explained. “There was a little confusion about the new entrance to Wheeling Park High School, but now I feel people realize that the new entrance at the high school addresses two of our primary objectives.
“The bottom level of that new entrance would enhance school safety, but on the second floor there would be a new media center, and that is something the high school has been in need of for some time,” Miller said. “The new front entrance will also illuminate that area because, right now, the front of the high school at night is very, very dark.”
Miller’s goal once the bond-funded projects were introduced to county voters has been to make all information available to those interested in the details. Not only are the facts and projected expenditures posted on the Ohio County Schools website, but also questions are answered nightly on the system’s Facebook page, and county administrators have staged a number of public forums.
A recent meeting at Wheeling Park High School involved a few local Partners in Education.
“We had sent out a lot of invitations, but the crowd was not as large as we had hoped,” Miller explained. “But the people who did attend the meeting had great questions because they genuinely wanted to know more information on the projects that would be performed with these dollars. Several of them, in fact, asked after the meeting if there was something they could do to help.
“This is about investing into our community, and many people believe that it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We’ve also had several other meetings before our regular board meetings, and we held those meetings at the schools where the work will be performed. There’s been a lot of input offered by a lot of people, so that’s been a positive during this process.”
Miller also has told voters the last two weeks that if the projects are approved in May, she is confident Ohio County Schools will be granted an additional $27 million from the state School Building Authority.
“It’s amazing we are capable of teaching students that go off into the world and do amazing things even though we have some of the class settings that we have. The credit goes to our teachers, of course, because they are the ones who make it work each and every day of the school year, but we need these upgrades badly,” the superintendent said. “Board members of the SBA have been to our schools, and they have seen the needs, inside and outside the buildings, that we have right now.
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“There has been one misconception about the bond money going toward teacher salaries, and there is no truth to that whatsoever,” Miller reported. “We have been very upfront about how these dollars would be spent, and I just hope the voters take a few minutes to review it.”
At the high school, a new primary entrance would be constructed with a vestibule and offices on the first level and a new media center on the second floor. Wheeling Park students also would see a new wrestling room, efficient lighting, enhanced music areas, improvements to the softball field and new stands in “The Palace on the Hill.”
The entrances, lighting and HVAC systems at all middle schools would be addressed, but each facility would be altered in specific ways, too. At Triadelphia Middle, the annex building would be demolished, and a new structure constructed to house the music program and a science lab; a centralized kitchen would be constructed at Warwood School; Bridge Street would gain a new, secured vestibule entrance; and an approval of the bond issue would permit the construction of a more secured entrance to Wheeling Middle, too.
HVAC system replacements, new lighting and kitchen renovations would take place at Bethlehem, Elm Grove and Middle Creek elementary schools, a new kitchen would be constructed at Steenrod, and kitchen expansions at West Liberty and Woodsdale would be funded, and Madison would get a new roof, new windows and secure front entrance. The final fixes on Ritchie Elementary’s pool would take place, and a new HVAC system would be installed in the facility’s 1976 addition areas, and a new roof on West Liberty also would be installed.
“We can do nothing and still do our very best to continue the great education offered in Ohio County while using just Band-Aids and buckets inside our schools, or we can do the right things so these children don’t have to go to schools with patched roofs, colored ceiling tiles and buckets catching the leaks,” Miller said. “That’s where we are in some of our schools, and I believe we can do better.
“I believe in my heart that the people in this community will support a great school system,” she said. “And not only would these funds go toward fixing those kinds of infrastructure issues, but also to new equipment, creating better spaces for our teachers to teach within and toward so many opportunities that otherwise would be missed.”
Miller is very aware she, her fellow administrators and the members are of the Ohio County Board of Education are requesting Ohio County voters to pay more taxes, on average of approximately $7 per month, according to the Ohio County Assessor’s Office.
“If our voters agree with this bond, we’ll be able to get all of these big-ticket projects, and then we will be able to use the general funds for education instead of for those Band-Aids and buckets,” Miller said. “We do have a lot of the information on our website for anyone to examine. If they have a question about what our plans are with an approval, everything is spelled out extensively.
“And, once the bond passes, we will be asking the members of our community to continue commenting on the developed plans because we want these new learning spaces to be the best they possibly can be,” she continued. “As a Central Office staff, we enjoy hearing the opinions of our parents, our students, our former students and from the residents of Ohio County, and that is why we have spoken with the members of every civic group and to our employees because we want to make sure we are telling our own story.”
(Photos provided by Ohio County Schools)
• Steve Novotney has been a professional journalist for 23 years, working for weekly and daily newspapers, the official publication of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and talk radio stations in Pittsburgh and Wheeling. He took his journalism to the Ohio Valley airwaves in 2004, and he is a premier interviewer and feature writer. Steve has been married to his wife, Michelle, for more than 20 years, and they have two children, Michael and Amanda.