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Leaks, security top list of needed HHS fixes

SUNRISE SUMMIT — With the bond call up for the public vote June 9, Hampshire High School has the chance to see some much-needed repairs.

If the bond is passed, Hampshire County will see 3 new elementary schools to replace the old ones as well as a new gym at Capon Bridge Elementary, but repairs and renovations for Hampshire High School are also on the horizon.

About $3.5 million is allotted in the bond election order for repairs and renovations to the high school, and according to the members of the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan committee, the school itself needs a little bit more than a face-lift.

“When the CEFP committee reviewed the county’s needs, it was identified as needing a new high school,” said Denise Hott, Hampshire County Schools Treasurer. “The price tag for the new elementary schools as well as a new high school was about $80 million, and that’s just not feasible. We had to make a decision about what needed to be done first.”

The issues that have surfaced over the last few decades with the structure of the high school are similar to the county-wide concerns about all of the structures: security, safe entranceways into the school, general structural problems, etc.

Security improvements top the list.  Hott explained that the doors at the high school mirror those of Augusta and Romney Elementary Schools.

“Some of our doors are just old and need replaced,” she remarked. “Some of the frames are rusting out. It’s not just replacing the doors, it’s replacing the whole structure.”

Before schools closed on March 13, Hott said the HHS PRO officer and his student interns would do perimeter safety checks at least once, maybe twice every 45 minutes to ensure that the doors are safe, but the doors are still not in the best shape.

The bathroom facilities are also in need of some work, Hott added, noting that as of right now, most of the bathrooms are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.

“You should be able to go into a bathroom with a wheelchair,” Hott pointed out.

Leaks are an issue as well, with issues throughout the school due to old copper piping that Hott said, “are corroding and just falling off in your hand.” The library ceiling also leaks from the balcony area.

Hott said that the school just had to replace their hot water tank, the tank that ran the entire HHS complex, because it sprung a leak this fall. They’ve just replaced it with multiple, smaller units throughout the building.

While a slew of structural concerns and repair needs pepper the inside of the school itself, the outside of the structure isn’t in mint condition, either.

“We are planning on replacing the window wall, the one when you’re looking at the front of the building, it’s left of the main entrance,” Hott described. “Those are the original window walls.”

In some of the buildings, the mortar is missing from the brick as well, causing a little bit of a structural safety issue.

“We don’t have kids in that side of the building,” Hott said. “It’s obviously a room we are no longer using.”

Tallying up all of the repair and renovation needs at HHS, it’s easy to see why the CEFP committee, made up of Hampshire County Schools staff as well as community members, decided that the county needed a new high school. However, as Hott pointed out, the county can only do so much with the resources available to them.

“The biggest trick of all is that there’s only so much money,” Hott explained. “Everyone’s tax bill would be a whole lot higher if we tried to do it all at once.”

While HHS was constructed in 1964, many of the elementary schools in the county clock in as older than that, like Romney Elementary, built in the 30s. Hott noted that if the bond passes and the North, Central and West schools are constructed, it would leave HHS as the only school in the county to have students travelling to outbuildings for class.

“Right now, all of the schools have some version of an outbuilding,” Hott said. Whether it's the schools with modular classrooms out back or Capon Bridge Elementary, where students travel down the hill to use the old middle school’s gym, the high school would be the last school with these outbuildings on its site.

If the bond passes, the ball will be able to get rolling on making the much-needed repairs and renovations to HHS, and more money might even be able to go to these repairs if Hampshire County Schools can save money with demolition costs.

For additional information, such as an overview of the condition of the schools, information sheets, a copy of the full bond election order and more, visit the Hampshire County Schools website, www.boe.hamp.k12.wv.us and select the “Bond Election Facts” tab on the left.

9 polling places moved for primary

ROMNEY — Nine polling places in Hampshire County will have new homes for the June 9 primary, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it will let us share some poll workers and keep things moving,” County Clerk Eric Strite said Monday.

The moves leave 14 polling places to staff instead of the usual 22.

Strite said the number of people volunteering to work the polls has fallen off over concerns about the virus.

The changes include having all 4 precincts that serve the town of Romney voting at the Fire Hall. Moving are Precincts 16 (Courthouse), 19 (DNR office) and 20 (Romney Senior Center). Precinct 14 already votes there. 

Other changes:

• Precinct 7 switches from Island Hill Church to the Slanesville Fire Hall, joining Precinct 8 there.

• Precinct 10 and Precinct 22 join Precinct 12 in voting at the Augusta Fire Hall. Precinct 10 normally votes at the Hampshire County Health Department and Precinct 22 at Augusta Elementary School.

• Precinct 15 moves from Mill Creek Ruritan to Romney Elementary School, where Precinct 17 already votes.

• Precinct 18 moves from the Department of Motor Vehicles across U.S. 50 to Hampshire High School to vote alongside Precinct 24.

• Precinct 26 shifts from Green Spring Park’s kitchen to Springfield-Green Spring Elementary School, which is already home to Precinct 25.

Fears about the pandemic have pushed unprecedented numbers of voters to request and return absentee ballots.

While the number of people voting by absentee ballot has never exceeded 150 in recent elections, Strite said that as of last Friday 2,400 ballots had been requested and 1,350 had already been returned. o


‘Our customers are our family’

Hampshire restaurants gear up to open their doors

With restaurants around the county being given the green light from Gov. Justice to open their doors tomorrow, Hampshire County businesses are bustling to ready themselves to greet the public once again.

Romney Diner is one of the restaurants trying to ready themselves to open back up, and the plan is for their doors to open on Tuesday, May 26. Angie Clower explained that the diner attempted to implement a carryout program, but “it just wasn’t feasible.”

“It will be 2 months by the time we open,” she pointed out.

Jodi Stotler with Main Street Grill and Main Street Diner has also made a plan for the restaurants to open, with the focus on following guidelines to keep customers safe. Main Street Grill in Romney will be reopening for indoor seating tomorrow, while Main Street Diner in Slanesville will be ready to go on Thursday, May 28.

“All staff will go through daily temperature checks and health screenings,” Stotler said. “All tables and seating are disinfected after each use, and all staff are required to wear masks and gloves at all times.”

Clower also described how Romney Diner would be maintaining safety practices to minimize risk in their building.

“We’re working on it. We are going to hang the clear liners, so each table is apart from the next one, and the staff will be wearing masks and gloves,” she explained.

The rule stands that restaurants may open as long as they adhere to the guidelines laid out by Gov. Justice’s reopening plan, and some of the precautions are stringent.

Patrons of restaurants must follow guidelines that limit their party size to 6, enforce social distancing rules and use separate entrances and exits into the building if at all possible.

With the plan, restaurant owners have a blueprint for how to be open for business while maintaining safety practices.

As with the beauty salons, Stotler explained that if there is a need to wait at Main Street Grill or Main Street Diner, she and her employees will direct customers to wait in their cars, with sanitized pagers to let them know when a table is available for them.

“Your safety is our priority, and we want to give you peace of mind,” Stotler said.

With one of the leading guidelines for these restaurants as the 50% capacity rule, Clower said that she’s a little bit concerned.

“I am a little worried that it will still be profitable with half capacity,” she admitted.

Romney Diner is a smaller operation itself, and Clower said that she and the employees at the Romney mainstay will have to be mindful of how business fluctuates and make changes, being as flexible as possible.

“With safety precautions, mask, gloves as needed and sanitizing everything as much as possible, we may have to adjust our hours accordingly,” she explained. “Even if people aren’t coming in, we still have to pay utilities.”

This reopening can give restaurants hope that the county might be on its way back to the “new” normal.

“We really missed everyone,” Clower said. “Our customers are our family.”

Courts reopening with lasting changes

ROMNEY — Courts here have begun slowly reopening, but don’t call it business as usual.

The Judicial Center will allow no more than 5 people in the lobby at a time. Proceedings will routinely include videoconferencing by some participants. Visits to the circuit clerk, magistrate clerk and other offices essentially will be by appointment only.

“We don’t want people coming to the courthouse thinking they can just come in,” Chief Judge Charles Carl said Friday. “We’re still going ahead with the business of the justice system, but it comes with some caution concerns. They’re going to have to follow our rules to do it.”

One casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic: the May grand jury session has been scrapped. The next grand jury will be convened in September.  

“We’re going to have to finish our January term,” Carl said. Many of the 18 indictments have yet to be disposed of, including 1 scheduled jury trial.

He predicted a big September grand jury, which will be the last for outgoing Prosecutor Betsy K. Plumer, who is not running for re-election.

Carl said safety amid the pandemic will be apparent starting with arrival at the Judicial Center door, which will be closed.

Drop boxes are outside for documents that need to be filed with the circuit and magistrate clerks.

Bailiffs will question each person entering about their exposure to the virus. Visitors may be subject to a non-contact temperature reading by the bailiff.

 People entering will be required to use hand sanitizer and wear masks.

“Bring your own,” Carl said. “We may or may not have masks available.”

Actually, Carl said, the 1st line of defense is avoiding the center.

“For magistrate court, continue to pay fines by credit card or certified check by mail,” Carl said.

Call the circuit clerk or judge with questions. Much business can be conducted online or by mail.

“If it has to be in person, it can be scheduled,” Carl said.

But court proceedings won’t look the same as before. Court staff, attorneys and their clients will be in the courtroom, but few others.

“I’m not going to say you can’t have witnesses.” Carl said. “We’re not going to deny a fair, just, full hearing, but it might be a little cumbersome because it may take more time.”

That could mean having witnesses waiting in the lobby or outside in cars to be contacted when they are needed in the courtroom. 

Expect participation via Skype and other teleconferencing as well.

Carl said the courtrooms will be cleaned between every proceeding.

Carl and Carter Williams, the other judge serving the 22nd Circuit, wrote the judicial order outlining the new procedures in response to a State Supreme Court directive that told courts to begin reopening this week.

The Supreme Court order says grand juries can convene again beginning June 15 and that jury trials can resume 2 weeks later, June 29.

“I want to be proactive in precautionary efforts,” Carl said.

The judges will review the procedures weekly.

‘I need to bring people together’

Hampshire High School’s new man in charge values family, unity

New Hampshire High School principal Mike Dufrene is approaching his new position with a coach’s mindset: family, teamwork and school pride are going to be front and center. 

Dufrene has been in education for almost 33 years, and while the last 5 years have seen him dressed in maroon at John Handley High School in Winchester, he’s excited to don green and white and join the Trojan community.

“I’ve been in this business for 32 years, and I can honestly say that I have just as much passion now as I did in year 1,” Dufrene said. “I love making a difference. I thought this was an opportunity to explore something that would really fit my skill set and allow me to do what I do well.”

What is it, exactly, that Dufrene does well?

“I think you’re going to find that my biggest strength is my relationship with my kids,” Dufrene affirmed.

You don’t have to take his word for it, either. In the week or so since the school board brought Dufrene on, it’s been impossible to ignore the overwhelmingly positive response of the John Handley community to his leaving.

“If you’ve followed anything on social media about me leaving Handley, I think the community speaks for itself about how much we mean to each other,” said Dufrene.

When Dufrene entered the education field almost 33 years ago, right after he graduated from George Mason University, he started out as a physical education teacher and head boys basketball coach. He was 23 years old.

He was then “Coach Dufrene” for 25 years, until he became “Principal Dufrene,” finding that he could make a difference in students’ lives as an administrator in the same way that he could as a coach.

It was just on a bigger scale.

“Teaching and coaching? I loved it. I loved seeing the results of my efforts,” Dufrene recalled, saying that his best friend got out of coaching early to become an administrator, and at the time, Dufrene didn’t understand it.

Now, Dufrene said, he understands what his friend meant: you can do the same thing with teaching, coaching and administration, if it’s done the right way.

“I think if I would have gotten into administration early in my career, I wouldn’t be here today,” he noted. “I’m proud of the path I took. I worked my way up the ladder and earned my stripes along the way, and I’m extremely confident in what I do.”

So, how will his coaching attitude transfer to his new position at HHS?

His first focus is on uniting the Trojan community.

“It sounds like I need to bring people together,” Dufrene said. “I need to get everybody on the same page, with the same vision.”

Without divulging some of his personal trade secrets, Dufrene said that several programs he began and helped facilitate at John Handley might be a good addition to HHS.

“I’m very big on student leadership,” said Dufrene. “I think if I allow the students to have a voice, they’re going to respond.”

This unity is essential for a successful team, whether on the basketball court or an entire high school community. Teamwork is also a key element, and Dufrene explained that he feels like the staff at HHS is a solid start.

“I think we have some good pieces in place, we just have to put them in the right spot to utilize their skills,” Dufrene remarked. “That’s my job.”

It doesn’t end with the school staff, either. A cog in the wheel that’s just as important is the HHS families, and Dufrene understands that.

At John Handley, Dufrene said that when he started out, there were only 4 or 5 moms in the parent organization at the school. Now, at the time of his departure from the Winchester school after 5 years, there are over 30 parents involved.

“It’s just going around and meeting with the key players and building a team,” Dufrene explained. “It’s building a family. I believe in a family environment.”

He and his wife are planning on moving to Hampshire County from Winchester, where his wife Holly is currently a 1st and 2nd grade teacher. While moving from Winchester Public Schools to being a principal in a tight-knit community like Hampshire might seem like a big change, Dufrene said that at the end of the day, kids are kids, no matter where you go, and he’s excited about the change of scenery as well.

“I love the 1 high school system. I like that hometown feel,” he said. “I feel like the high school principal of a 1-school community, every kid in this area is my kid. You don’t have to even be in high school. If you’re in 1st grade, you’re my kid.”

Dufrene officially takes over on July 1, and he acknowledges that it’s going to be tough with the challenges posed by COVID-19, but he said he is working now to try to figure out a plan for HHS, whether they’re allowed back on campus in the fall or if the virtual learning continues.

“I’m thinking about how we can get better now in preparation to open up the school year. That’s the struggle everyone’s going through,” he explained. “I’m a personal guy. I want to see you face-to-face. When can we say hi?  When can we say ‘hello’ and hug again? That’s going to be the biggest challenge.”

Though Hampshire County is a bit of a change, Dufrene isn’t shying away from the differences or the challenges. He said that he is working on his plan, and when the school year starts, he’s going to be hitting the ground running, with the big-ticket issues and the little things, which Dufrene says “make the most difference.”

Dufrene’s track record, from discovering his love of kids when he was just a high schooler working at summer camps, to teaching and coaching for 25 years, and now with his years as “Principal Dufrene,” shows that whether you agree with his approach or not, his passion for his students always shines through. He said that he would challenge anybody when it comes to working as hard as he does or caring as much as he does.

“You can’t fake it, you can’t buy it, it’s not a class you can take in college,” Dufrene said. “You have to experience it, and once you experience it, you’re in. You can’t walk away from it.”