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WHEELING — Ohio County Schools has received about $19 million in federal COVID funds over the past two years, and it’s going to mean a $7 million building addition at Elm Grove Elementary School.

Such a project was initially outside the original scope of the $44.4 million school improvements bond passed by Ohio County voters in 2018. About $76 million in construction work was proposed throughout the school district.

But then the COVID pandemic occurred, and federal lawmakers established the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund under the CARES Act.

Over time, Ohio County Schools has received about $19 million in ESSER funds, according to Steven Bieniek.

The windfall means the school district can add some additional projects to its original plans for school construction, and the school district is now on track to spend about $90 million on property improvements, according to school officials.

Two years ago as employees with the McKinley and Associates engineering firm worked on designs for renovations at Ohio County Schools facilities, they received word from the West Virginia Department of Education that enrollment at Elm Grove Elementary had increased by 30% in recent years and there was a need to accommodate that, explained Sean Doyle, field representative for McKinley and Associates.

“They asked us to really take a look at the enrollment at Elm Grove and really consider the use of space in that building,” Doyle said.

“We decided to pause the design there and take some time. We decided that to really service the school the right way would require an addition.

“Fortunately, as the funding sits, we can do that.”

The addition at Elm Grove Elementary comes with an expected price tag of about $7.1 million, according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones. Details of the project were discussed at Monday’s board of education meeting.

Katie Wetherby of McKinley and Associates said the addition would entail construction of a 7,800 square-foot one-story building. The new space would house eight additional classrooms, as well as two title rooms – small instruction rooms for Title I services – and a storage room.

In the existing building, plans now call for three new restrooms to be added in the Pre-K and kindergarten areas, as well as the construction of two storage areas to be shared by adjacent classrooms.

Another title room would be added near the front entrance, and a security “man trap” would be constructed there.

A movable partition would be installed between the cafeteria and gym, as would new flooring throughout the building.

Doyle and Wetherby said “realistically” construction could start at the school in the spring of 2023.

Board of Education member David Croft wanted to know the current stance of the budget with respect to the overall school construction projects. Construction is completed or underway at 11 of 13 of the school district’s properties, with just work at Elm Grove and Middle Creek elementary schools remaining.

“In 2018, we said we didn’t want to come down to the final two buildings and have to do less because we ran out of money,” Croft said. “Are we confident we will be able to finish the schools completely, and depending on the plans, do even more so than what we planned?”

Doyle responded that there was actually money remaining to take on extra projects.

“It is actually the opposite with these last two schools,” Doyle said. “We believe we are going to be able to do a lot more.”

Board member Molly Aderholt next asked if the district continues to be on budget without the ESSER funds being considered.

“It is nearly impossible to take the initial bond that was passed with the funds, then try to look at it at that level to see if that $70 million was spent,” Doyle said.

Decisions have been made monthly and annually to do more on the school properties as additional funds became available, he continued.

“From my perspective, it seems to have been done responsibly and not without a full investment from the group,” Doyle said.

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