The Times West Virginian

July 15, 2007

Harrison school bond soundly defeated

Voters reject $42.5m proposal overwhelmingly

By Katie Wilson

FAIRMONT — Unofficial results indicate Harrison County voters voted against a proposed school bond Saturday.

Preliminary reports indicate the bond failed with all 93 precincts reporting. Unofficial results indicate 4,454 people voted against the measure with only 2,874 voting their approval.

According to the bond call issued by the Harrison County Board of Education, the total amount requested from taxpayers was $42.5 million. Reports indicate the measure would have cost the average taxpayer $61 a year. An additional $20 million was expected to come from the state School Building Authority, and $4.7 million would have come from the HCBOE. If it had passed, the bond would have paid for at least three new schools and renovations to several others within the county.

Carl Friebel, Harrison County Superintendent of Schools, said Sunday the voters had spoken.

“We’re disappointed,” Friebel said. “We were talking about getting a significant amount of money from the SBA, now it will go elsewhere.

“Although it didn’t pass, the problems remain. We’ve got significant overcrowding situations in Bridgeport (schools) and aging buildings in other areas,” he said.

Friebel noted the board spent hours getting input from the community to make the bond a success, but to no avail.

“We thought the bond package was solid,” he said.

In addition to the promised money from the SBA, Friebel said the HCBOE had a donation offer of a tract of land in Bridgeport valued at $10 million for a new school there, and the HCBOE had a carryover of more than $7 million from last year’s budget to devote to the projects.

“We had almost a dollar-for-dollar match,” Friebel said.

Since Monongalia County passed a bond for new and improved schools recently, the Marion County Board of Education had been watching the situation in Harrison County closely.

Harrison’s bond failure wouldn’t impact a proposed bond in this county, Marion County Superintendent of Schools James Phares said Sunday.

“It doesn’t mean anything to Marion County,” Phares said. “We have a different set of people voting on the bond here.”

The MCBOE is moving ahead with plans to finalize a bond call and get it on the ballot in for the May 2008 primary election.

Earlier this year, Phares released his plan for school modernization, which includes an estimated $80 million in projects. The MCBOE has since added another $10 million in renovations to the plan, bringing the estimated total to $90.4 million. Last month, the MCBOE was hopeful the SBA would provide $30 million in grants if county voters approved a $60 million bond.

Board members will meet this week with representatives of Charles Ryan Associates, a Charleston marketing firm. The board has plans to contract with a marketing firm through architects Blackwood & Associates in an effort to gauge support for a proposed bond in Marion County. That meeting is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the MCBOE Central Offices.

“I just believe if we put the right package on the table, people will support it and that’s what the market study is all about,” Phares said.

E-mail Katie Wilson at kwilson@timeswv.com.