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1% bonds = $4.6M savings
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Schools snag ‘historically low’ interest rate 

When the original bond resolution was passed last year, voters could be confident the interest rate could be between 2 and 4 percent, with a rate no higher than 5 percent.

When the winning bid was revealed at Wednesday’s board meeting, which would set the interest rate to just over 1 percent, Hampshire made history. With the rate this low, the total interest cost to be paid will be only $2,880,731. That’s a whopping $4.64 million less interest than projected in the original bond resolution.

“To say we’re pleasantly surprised is an understatement,” said board president Debbie Champ. “I never dreamed (it would be) just over 1 percent. That’s crazy.”

Ernie Dellatorre, architect with McKinley Architecture and Engineering, was also present virtually at the board meeting Wednesday, and he echoed Champ’s thoughts.

“I did think we’d get a favorable rate,” Dellatorre admitted, “but I never thought it would be this low.”

Robert W. Baird & Co. in Red Bank, N.J. was the highest responsive bidder by far, with the 2nd-highest bidder (Huntington Securities Inc.) coming in with a rate of 1.194077.

That’s 18 points higher than the winning bid.

“This is the most historically low interest rate I’ve seen in 23 years,” said Joe Nassif with Piper Sandler, the school board’s financial advisor for the bond proceedings. “I just want to congratulate the team here for a job well done.”

Board vice president Ed Morgan described the process succinctly to the Nassif and the representatives from Steptoe & Johnson: “It’s been a pleasure making history with you.”

In addition to approving the sale of the bonds to Robert W. Baird & Co., the board also approved to keep McKinley as the architectural firm spearheading the design of the 3 new schools. Dellatorre has been involved with the process from the beginning, Superintendent Jeff Pancione said, recommending that the board stay the course with the Wheeling-based design firm.

Suspect ID’d, indicted in Adams death
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The teen accused of killing Johnny Adams last July was identified Tuesday in a 5-count indictment.

Austin Michael Holmes-Evans was charged by the Hampshire County grand jury with 1st-degree murder in the death of his younger cousin, Jonathan Benjamin Adams. Holmes, now 17, was arrested on a burglary charge at the time Adams’ body was found in a shallow grave dug in a hard-to-reach wooded area of Hanging Rock subdivision last July 18.

Authorities acknowledged in February that the teen was the main suspect in the murder, but did not identify him because he is a juvenile.

The Circuit Court in March authorized Holmes-Evans to stand trial as an adult, but the order identifying him was sealed until he was indicted, which came last Tuesday.

The indictment only identifies the victim as J.B.A. with a date-of-birth that matches Holmes-Evans’ 14-year-old cousin.

Holmes-Evans is also charged with burglary, kidnaping, use of a firearm while committing a felony and concealment of human remains.

He was arraigned Tuesday along with the bulk of the other 31 people indicted last week. The arraignment was conducted via TEAMS with Judge Charles Carl and Prosecutor Rebecca Miller in the courtroom. Holmes-Evans appeared from the Chick Buckbee Juvenile Center, where he is jailed, and his attorney Craig Manford appeared from Martinsburg.

Johnny’s father, Angel Vaquez, also attended the hearing remotely.

Evans-Hughes pled not guilty to all 5 counts. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. next Thursday, May 20. A final pretrial hearing is penciled in for June 3.

Miller told the court that the state crime lab is still conducting testing on some items from the scene of the crime in Hanging Rock subdivision. 

Hanging Rock lies just north of Golden Acres off North River Road. Austin Holmes-Evans’ mother, Denise Holmes-Evans, owns a 4-acre lot that aerial maps show 2 houses on.

Austin Holmes-Evans was initially arrested on a burglary charge. The indictment says the burglary occurred at 177 Hanging Rock Road, 1 of 2 houses on 7 acres across Boulder Lane from the Holmes-Evans property.

The indictment says all 5 of the crimes occurred between July 1 and 18.

Johnny Adams was last seen around 11 p.m. on July 11, a Saturday. He was reported missing around 6:30 a.m. the next morning.

The 8th-grader’s adoptive parents, Angel and Janis Jaquez, sent him to Hampshire County as the Covid-19 pandemic spread because so many members of Johnny’s family in Connecticut work in healthcare.

He arrived here in March to stay with his aunt, a high school teacher, and her 6 children, another aunt, Elizabeth Adams, told the Hartford Courant. Johnny studied remotely from here to graduate 8th grade from King Philip Middle School in West Hartford last spring.

After his disappearance, sheriff’s deputies, other first responders and volunteers combed the woods for the 5-foot-6, 92-pounder. A $10,000 reward — quickly raised to $20,000 — was offered for his safe return.

Johnny Adams’ remains were uncovered shortly before noon the following Saturday, July 18. The autopsy from the state’s chief medical examiner say he died from a single gunshot to the head.

Romney expands sewer billing
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ROMNEY — Mayor Beverly Keadle cast a tie-breaking vote Monday night to allow the town to bill non-users for sewer service.

Her vote was needed when the measure got only 2 yes votes from the 3 council members at the meeting. Paula O’Brien and Carl Laitenberger voted yes and Duncan Hott voted no.

Since half the council — Gary Smith, John Duncan and Derek Shreve — were absent, Keadle’s vote was added to give it the necessary 3 votes to pass.

The resolution came at the end of the 35-minute meeting. Keadle read the portion of state law that allows municipal utilities to bill any property that sewer line passes whether the property is hooked up for service or not.

Keadle told the Council the law was written because sewer service is more expensive to provide than water service.

Only Hott asked about the rule.

The resolution will allow the town to bill non-users who have access to sewer service the minimum monthly rate.

Keadle contended that even if a lot isn’t hooked to sewer service the property owner benefits because having sewer service raises a property’s value.

In other business:

• The council “clarified” by resolution that the new water rate is $14.30 per 1,000 gallons.

• Home inspector Victor Madonna was hired as a part-time code enforcement officer.

• Keadle told the Council the town has received a new police cruiser paid for primarily with a USDA grant.

• Keadle was authorized to sign the town’s insurance bill, which totals $99,659 for the coming fiscal year.

• Parks and Rec Board President Kerri Shreve said work is progressing on opening the community pool, probably on June 1.

A new pump has been delivered and lifeguards hired, but some of the new lifeguards need to complete certification and some leaks and wiring need to be repaired.

• Roman, the K9 unit handled by Chad Ashton, was fully certified last week.

Best friends, BuilderChicks
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Creativity, fun are musts for Hampshire native

Amy and Krista started BuilderChicks in 2016, and it began as a hobby. 

“Around 4 or 5 years ago, I had this idea for a project,” Krista recalled (A pallet wood desk project, to be exact). “I asked Amy for help with it, and we discovered that we work really well together.” 

Amy added that she and Krista see things differently, which allows them to weather and manage challenges well. 

With side projects from their hobby piling up, the 2 ended up facing the opportunity to go into furniture construction and contracting full time. 

“We were in that place where we decided to just jump in,” Krista said. “It was fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants.”

“That’s kind of how we run everything,” added Amy. “It was a leap of faith. You can’t really plan a leap of faith.”

And so, BuilderChicks had its foundation.

It was hardly smooth sailing when it started, Amy said. 

“About 6 months in, Krista had an accident, and it was just me trying to keep the business afloat,” she recounted. “Fast forward another few months, and then there was a pandemic. Our business got shut down when they were shutting down small businesses.”

Krista mentioned that with unforeseen challenges like those, there was no way for the duo to prepare. However, with businesses having been reopened for months now and Krista’s recovery, Amy said they’re in an ideal position.

“The business is thriving,” she said. “We are constantly being reminded that the business is booming.”

Krista said that in the pair’s day-to-day routine, it’s sometimes hard to see the big picture: that their hobby-turned-business is successful. Challenges like the shortages of building supplies and lumber are throwing a wrench into their planning.

 “Within the last couple of weeks it’s gotten way worse again,” Amy described.

Krista added, “It’s a hard thing to communicate to clients. Some get it, some get frustrated.”

Even with external challenges, the pair finds a way to have fun in everything they do. Amy said her favorite part of her job right now is finally being in their groove and having some schedule flexibility.

“We’ve been working super long weeks and crazy hours,” Amy explained. “We’re finally at a place where we’re getting to experience freedom and flexibility in having our own business.”

Krista said she loves being able to flex her creative muscles.

“”I’m an uber-creative person, and a lot of projects over the last couple months have just been really creative, fun projects,” she said. Projects like turning a 100-year-old piano into a headboard for a bed, or building tree houses for families keep the job interesting for Amy and Krista.

“It’s never the same thing twice,” Amy added with a laugh.

A best friend business partnership has distinct advantages, Krista said, but also its own unique difficulties.

“We can tell just from voice intonation or a look when (the other) is frustrated, tapped out or angry,” Krista pointed out. “But we’re both very passionate people, so when we fight, we fight. That definitely comes out.”

Of course, being best friends, they don’t ever stay angry for too long.

“It’s always the best of the best and the worst of the worst when it’s your best friend,” added Krista. “We both desperately want our projects to be the best possible.”

Masks off June 20 – but on for now
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Our recovery from Covid-19 shows promise statewide, but is checkered here.

The county had 13 new cases reported Tuesday morning, skyrocketing the total to 50 here with 3 hospitalizations.

West Virginia will lift the statewide mask mandate on June 20 because state officials projected more than 2/3rds of eligible residents will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by then, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday.

And even if that target isn't met, Justice said the mandate will still end on that date.

“We’ll be close enough,” he said. “We're going with that date, period.”

Justice said he expects 65% of all residents aged 12 and older to be at least partially vaccinated by June 20.

Hampshire County is already close to that mark.

State DHHR statistics on Monday showed that 32.3% of Hampshire residents 16 or older have been fully vaccinated and another 36.7% have been partially.

While vaccination rates here crept up last week, new cases rose faster.

Both Tuesday’s active cases and hospitalizations are higher than a week earlier, despite calls for people to be vaccinated and the opening of vaccines to younger people.

Anyone 16 or older is eligible for the Pfizer vaccine and federal officials on Monday approved that same vaccine for delivery to 12- to 15-year-olds.

The county continues at Orange status, 2nd-worst on the state’s 5-color map tracking the virus. Both the positivity rate per 100,000 residents and the infection rate among new tests are at high levels.

Cases among the young continue to haunt Hampshire High School and Romney Middle School.

Since last Tuesday HHS has had 4 remote instruction days in addition to the standard remote Friday. RMS was on remote instruction Thursday and Monday as it dealt with new cases. HHS was remote Tuesday, but RMS was in-person.

The state reported that 12 of the 37 cases reported in Hampshire County between last Tuesday and this Monday were age 19 or younger.

Over the course of the pandemic, Hampshire has had 1,866 cases and 34 deaths, including a 48-year-old Romney woman who lost her fight with the virus last week.

Justice said the date won't be moved up if the state reaches its goals earlier.

“We're going to call this our call to arms,” Justice said. “We need the arms in a different way. We need arms to put shots into.”

Justice has said he wants to beat President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70% of American adults by July Fourth. The state has currently given at least one dose to 54% of its eligible population of people over the age of 16.

About 40.5% of all residents in the state have received at least one dose of a vaccine, state data show, and 34.4% are fully vaccinated.