Members of the Coal River Valley community in Raleigh County are disappointed that the West Virginia School Building Authority did not allocate enough funds to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School.
The Coal River Valley is still grieving the loss of 29 men after the Upper Big Branch explosion.
“It’s a very sad, sad place to be,” local resident Louise Maynor said. “It’s like there’s a dark cloud hanging over the entire area. Everybody is just really down. They want answers; they want resolution.”
But as they search for those answers, the community received other disappointing news. It hoped to replace Marsh Fork Elementary School with funds from the state school building authority.
On Monday, the SBA voted unanimously to approve $2.6 million in funding towards a new elementary school, but the estimated cost for the school is $8.6 million.
“We also were debating other very very worthy projects,” SBA Executive Director Mark Manchin said.
“You give a little, you take a little bit and the funds, we just had to add the funds up and we discussed a lot of different projects.”
The Raleigh County Board of Education is offering to pay $1 million toward a new school and Massey Energy promised to donate another million. The board had asked the SBA for the remaining $6.6 million dollars.
Mark Manchin says the school building authority will reach out to Massey Energy as well as the county board to try and find the remaining $4 million needed for the project
But president of the Raleigh County board of education Rick Snuffer says the board does not have an extra $4 million in the budget. At most, he says the board may be able to come up with a couple hundred thousand.
“I’m very disappointed,” Snuffer said. “I know they had other projects but I can’t imagine they had another project that is more worthy.”
“It’s been a real rough month for those people in the Coal River area and to me this is just kind of another blow to them. This was an opportunity to really give them something to look forward to, something good for their future.”
Snuffer points out the amount of taxes the state receives from the region because of the mining.
“If there’s any school in Raleigh County that needs to be replaced, that school needs to be replaced,” he said.
“When you consider the billions of dollars in coal severance tax that that area has contributed, 6.6 is just a drop in the bucket.”
Louise Maynor is a former principal at Marsh Fork Elementary. She says there are several problems with the old building such as the amount of entrances and the close proximity of the playground to the road.
“They need a new school,” Maynor said. “Marsh Fork Elementary as it is housed now was never designed to be an elementary school. It was a high school at one time; it was a junior high.”
Maynor would like to see Massey pay for the entire cost to build the school.
“Massey contributed some,” she said. “Massey could build the school in my opinion. They work here; they reap the benefits of our mountains in our community and they need to contribute back to our community. If we need five million for our school, they need to contribute five million for the school.”
Coal River Mountain Watch, an environmental group based in the region has offered another $10,000. The group wants a new school because of its close proximity to a Massey owned coal waste dam as well as other mining activity.
The SBA will meet again in June to discuss the project further.
Massey did not immediately respond requests for comment.