Many residents and patrons of Randolph County, WV have come into the Pioneer Library and are wondering about the future of next-door Harman School. During the week of July 4th, two tons of ceiling collapsed in the school making the entire building unsafe for population. Rumor has it that the plaster ceilings that are throughout much of the school were improperly installed with short nails. Gravity is now bringing those ceilings down. The good part is that this happened during summer break and no one was hurt. But imagine if this had happened with a full classroom. (*shudder*)
Harman School has approximately 170 students and is one of the few pre-K-12th grade schools left in the country. At one time, Randolph County had dozens of smaller, one- and two-room schoolhouses. Consolidation has lead to less schools which allegedly decreases cost and improves educational consistency and quality. Because Harman School is isolated on Route 33 in the Dry Fork Valley, 23 miles east of Elkins, the school has remained open even with a dwindling population. But what is the future of Harman School?
Local Residents Love Harman School
Local residents are passionate about keeping Harman School open. At the first meeting to discuss the physical facility of the school, local folks brought $55,000 to show their commitment and enthusiasm for contributing to the renovation and repair of the school. Many of these parents graduated from Harman School and their loyalty and love for this institution runs deep and true. Harman is proud of Harman School, their red and white colors, and the black panther mascot that serves as the symbol of this mountain community.
The Randolph County school year started yesterday, Thursday, August 14, 2014, and all of the kids who currently attend Harman School are being bused to various schools in Randolph County. Some parents have chosen to transfer their school-aged children to schools in Tucker County while others have chosen to home school. There have been some snags. Some children who are bused to Elkins have to get up very early to catch the bus into Elkins. The superintendent of the Randolph County Board of Education had to ask for a special exception for some of the kids to be on buses longer than the rules allow. So the bottom line is that some Harman schoolchildren are spending an hour or more one-way on a school bus. While the bus drivers work out the snags in the new schedule they might want to keep in mind that for kids who miss the bus it is hard for parents to drive 26 miles to deliver their child to school.
How Long Will Repairs Take?
At a recent meeting in Harman with Randolph County BOE Superintendent Terry George he said that his hope is that the pre-K through 5th grade schoolchildren will be back at the Harman School in four-six weeks. For the older kids it might not be until Christmas time that they are able to return. I can report that the repairs to Harman School have not yet begun. There is a bid process that will take time, though it is hoped that everyone is doing everything possible to expedite this process.
A recent fundraiser in Harman raised an additional $10,000. Local state representatives Denise Campbell and Bill Hartman are working hard to bring money to Harman School. Ms. Campbell recently announced another $60,000 from the state. The Randolph County School Board voted to shift another $60,000 in levy funds to the work in Harman School. The BOE has estimated that the temporary repairs will cost around $250,000, and so far (publicly) I can count only around $185,000 raised.
What About the Furnace?
There is another large issue with Harman School that I have not heard publicly addressed and that is the aged and antiquated furnace at the school. The Randolph County Board has always said that if the furnace dies at Harman School the entire school will close with no hope of re-opening due to a lack of funds. What is the estimated cost of repairing Harman School so that it might last for future generations? What if $250,000 is pumped into the school to make it safe but then this winter the furnace dies? I have not heard anyone address the long-term health of Harman School.
So what is the future of Harman School? I have sent some of my questions to local officials and will report back when I hear an answer. In the meantime, let me say that the closure of Harman School has shaken this community to its very core. At the library, we miss the kids. We have had a regular and weekly story time program for the pre-K-3rd grade kids for many years. At lunchtime, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers run over to eat lunch and use the computers. Let me just say...we miss you guys. While The Pioneer Memorial Public Library is a public library, we are also on school grounds and consider the Harman School children a top priority. We miss the young ones who are excited to check out books. We miss the middle school boys who like to come in and tease each other (mostly) good-naturedly. We miss the high school students who come in to check out the latest Young Adult fiction. We look forward to the return of the children to Harman School and the Pioneer Memorial Public Library.
To date, this is the most comprehensive article on the state of Harman School and the school children. Many thanks to Harman School Principal Tammy Daniels who is doing a great job in the face of dealing with this difficult situation. Many thanks to the Harman School teachers who had to pack up their classrooms and move them elsewhere. Many thanks to the Harman School kids and parents who have stepped up to try to save their school.
And let me add that the Pioneer Memorial Public Library remains open. Our funding is not dependent on the Randolph County Board of Education and we are a nonprofit entity. So even during the closure of Harman School, we remain open to serve the community. Stop by today and check out our collection of over 10,000 books, audiobooks, and DVDs.