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State OKs $2.2M more for Central school
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Architect Patrick Rymer and Superintendent Jeff Pancione address the students and staff at Augusta Elementary during the groundbreaking ceremony of the new Central school.

Inflation and cost increases have been a punch in the gut during the planning process of the 3 new schools here, but Monday morning’s School Building Authority meeting resulted in some much-needed good news for Hampshire County.

Over $2.2 million worth of good news.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Jeff Pancione wrote the SBA a letter highlighting the need for additional funding for the Central school, which will be built in Augusta, citing “inflationary cost increases” as the reason the school board needed extra support.

Originally, the school was funded for $15,089,664 – funding made up of an SBA Needs Grant of $8 million and local bond funds of $7,089,664.

The school board opened 3 bids for the project on Nov. 9, awarding the winning bid to Hagerstown-based Callas Contractors LLC. Their winning bid was $15,085,000.

The school’s total construction costs, however – with site work, soft costs and contingencies – is projected to be $18,479,901, said Hampshire County Schools Finance Director Denise Hott.

The board, over the last few months, has worked to reduce the school’s square footage to fit into the SBA’s allowance, a necessary step if Hampshire County planned to pursue additional funds from the state.

In his letter to the SBA, Pancione detailed steps the school board has taken to reduce the costs and square footage of the school, such as removing the secondary access road, reducing the upper height of masonry, reducing areas of glazing to over 30 percent, reducing the canopies over every exterior door, etc. Right now, the overall square footage of the building only exceeds the SBA’s square footage allowance by 676 square feet.

The board was committed to keeping a regulation-sized gym at the Central school, which resulted in the schools committing an additional $1,106,334 of local funds to the project.  

“It is important to note that the bond listed a larger gymnasium in the new elementary school and it’s the board’s responsibility to the voters to provide what was described and voted for in the bond,” Pancione said in his letter.

He added that the board is unable to allocate any more local funds to the Central school project, because of the number of other projects on the horizon (2 more elementary schools, plus much-needed repairs and renovations to Hampshire High School) that will be bid in the near future.

After deducting the SBA grant amount, local bond proceeds and other additional local funds to cover the cost of the full-sized gym, the board requested supplemental funds from the SBA in the amount of $2,238,403.

The board got its wish Monday morning, as the SBA approved the additional funds at their over-the-phone special meeting.

“They knew that we needed more money,” said board president Ed Morgan.

The Central school’s winning bidders, Callas Contractors LLC, is out of Hagerstown. Morgan said he and the other 4 members of the board hadn’t heard of the company before.

“We were a little apprehensive at first,” he admitted. “We had never seen the name before, but we did our homework.”

He added that it probably wouldn’t be until February of 2023 that the board bids out the North school, to be constructed in Slanesville.

The old Hampshire Memorial Hospital site in Romney will be the site of the new West school, and engineers with the Thrasher Group indicated last week that they’d begin advertising for demolition bids by the end of the week, with the contract awarded by January.

What's in a name? Augusta, Slanesville and Romney schools to see fresh monikers
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Review Files 

Students at the current Augusta Elementary helped break the ground last month at the site for the new “Central” school – to be constructed right next to the current school. The school will have an entirely new name and mascot.

The 3 new schools on Hampshire County’s horizon have been dubbed Central, North and West – but those names are far from permanent.

In fact, they’re just the placeholder names for the new schools, 2 of which are beginning the process of site prep and construction right now.

And, Superintendent Jeff Pancione said, the new schools’ names once they’re built aren’t going to be the same familiar names that they were before. The Central school, located in Augusta, will not be called “Augusta Elementary,” and the North school in Slanesville will not be called “Slanesville Elementary.”

The West school, to be located in Romney, will not be the new “Romney Elementary,” either.

The new schools will all have new names and mascots, Pancione said, and student input will determine their outcome.

“I want it to be known that the new schools will have new names. That’s why we’re still calling them ‘North,’ ‘Central’ and ‘West,’” he said last week. “The CEFP (Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan) committee and bond committee, we are consolidating 5 schools into 3, and (we decided) they would have new names that students would be able to pick.”

Jodie Long, the principal at Slanesville Elementary, said that she’s excited to be a part of the planning of the new North school.

“The plans for the new facility are state-of-the-art and will offer many opportunities for our students,” she said. “I know many people wish the name would remain ‘Slanesville Elementary,’ but I understand the rationale behind the decision to change it to something new.”

Long, a graduate of Hampshire County Schools, was a 6th grader when President George H.W. Bush came to Slanesville Elementary in 1991 to recognize Rae Ellen McKee as national Teacher of the Year. Long called it a “memorable time” for the county – and for Slanesville’s community, as well.

“The history at Slanesville Elementary will always remain and be celebrated for many years to come,” Long said. “As we look at the unification of students from the John J. Cornwell community into our new school, we want to assure that the name is one that welcomes our neighboring students and sets the stage for new beginnings.”

When the new North school is built, the current Slanesville Elementary structure will remain for community use (with the same thing happening to the current structures in Augusta and Romney as well). While its specific use hasn’t been nailed down yet, it’s certain that the building will become a hub in the Slanesville community.

As for the new school’s name?

“We will be considering names that highlight the Slanesville area while including students from other communities that are now part of our student body,” Long explained. “The history behind the old Slanesville Elementary will always remain, but we will embrace the new opportunities that the new facility and multi-community student body will bring.”

Pancione also emphasized that students would be able to choose not just the name of the school, but the school mascots as well.

This unification of multiple Hampshire County communities will be happening at all 3 schools, as the Springfield-Green Spring, Slanesville, Romney and Augusta schools will see a shift as their student bodies start to meld.

The process has technically already begun with the closing of John J. Cornwell Elementary in Levels at the end of last school year, due to declining enrollment and the inevitable consolidation that would happen with the construction of the county’s 3 new schools.

High gas prices won’t slow holiday travel
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One thing most drivers are NOT thankful for this Thanksgiving is the price of gasoline – but that won’t stop them from traveling for the holiday, anyway.

About 38% of Americans are planning on traveling for Thanksgiving this year, projected GasBuddy, the online travel data compiler, an increase from last holiday’s 32%.

Our of the 62% of Americans who are opting to stay home for the holiday, 21% told GasBuddy that they are electing to stay put due to the high price of fuel. This weekend, average gas prices will be at their highest seasonal level ever; the national average is projected to stand squarely at $3.68 on Thanksgiving day – almost 30 cents higher than last year and 20 cents higher than the previous record of $3.44, set in 2012.

2022 has been a year of extremes for drivers, breaking several records because of less global refining capacity and sanctions brought on by Russia’s war on Ukraine. The high gas prices aren’t deterring drivers here from getting in their car and going, however, with a 20% increase from last year on the number of folks traveling for the holiday.

“It has been a dizzying year at the pump, with motorists likely feeling nauseous not from the eggnog, but from the roller coaster ride at the pump with record gasoline prices earlier this year, which have fallen significantly since mid-summer,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “Americans, however, are proving that while we’ll openly complain about high gas prices, most of us aren’t deterred from taking to the highways to observe Thanksgiving with those that matter most to us, especially as precautions from the pandemic have eased.”

Sheetz announced Monday in a press release that at 29 of their stores around the state, they’d be dropping gas prices for Unleaded 88 to as to as low as $2.83 per gallon – but only at the stores that offer Unleaded 88. So, travelers who fuel up at the Romney store will be out of luck if they’re looking to save money at that particular pump. Those willing to drive a little farther, Moorefield and Keyser locations reported to be participating, but make sure to sign up for the My Sheetz Rewardz loyalty program – it’s free.

As far as distance goes, more drivers noted that this year they plan to spend between 1 and 3 hours in the car (23%), while last year, most drivers indicated they’d be traveling less than an hour away.

And 73% of drivers said they won’t be crossing their respective state lines to get to their Thanksgiving gatherings.

Nationwide, travelers can expect Wednesday afternoon between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to be the busiest on the highways, and Friday, too, between 8 and 11 a.m. In West Virginia, however, at least on the Turnpike, Wednesday and Sunday are the big days for traveling through the Mountain State. Jeff Miller, executive director of the Parkways Authority, said he expects 156,000 vehicles to pass through Turnpike tollbooths on Wednesday, Nov. 23 and 165,000 on Sunday, Nov. 27.

And in total, he expects about 730,000 vehicles to pass during the 6 day period between Tuesday, Nov. 22 and this Sunday.

Good weather, 'great' season: Ideal weather helps 1st days of buck harvest
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Casey Hite Facebook 

Twins Jacob and Gracie, 11, were hunting with their dad Nathan Hite in Bloomery earlier this week and both took down impressive bucks. Jacob brought down a 9-point, his biggest buck yet, and Gracie’s 6-point marked her 1st-ever kill.

Yesterday saw bright-lit blue skies, but cooler temperatures with a low of 18 degrees right at sunrise for buck firearms season’s opening day.

Paul Johansen, WVDNR Wildlife Resources Chief, reported that statewide, they saw higher numbers for opening day.

Based on preliminary data, Johansen noted that numbers are “up statewide by around 10 percent from last year,” adding that based on everything that has been checked so far, Hampshire’s numbers are pretty close to last year’s.

Good weather helps, he pointed out.  

“The first 2 to 3 days of the season are key to a good harvest, and it certainly looks like we are going to have good weather the 1st couple of days. The early days of the season is when we have most of our hunters in the fields,” he said.

Ideal weather conditions tend to “keep hunters afield longer” because “they don’t get soaking wet or miserably cold, so they tend to hunt a little bit harder and longer,” Johansen said, which usually translates to a higher harvest number.

Last year, the Mountain State saw over 40,000 overall statewide harvest numbers.

Though Hampshire is looking at similar numbers from last year, so far, with ideal weather conditions, the numbers could see a slight increase too.

Unsurprisingly, Monday and Tuesday were busy, busy, busy for the District 2 DNR office in Romney. “It’s crazy over here,” DNR wildlife secretary Missy Shockey said Tuesday.

Overall, the season’s forecast is looking to be a solid one.  

“We are expecting a great deer season this year,” Johansen remarked. “I think our hunters won’t be disappointed. I am hoping hunters stay active, stay engaged out there, and most importantly, stay safe.”

Light Up Capon Bridge getting even bigger, brighter
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Review Files 

From 2021: Smiles lit up the town’s parade route.

CAPON BRIDGE — “This year, we have had a lot of extra volunteers.”

The town of Capon Bridge is setting up to see bright lights and smiling faces for their 2nd Annual Light Up Capon Bridge festivity on Dec. 3.

Capon Bridge town council member Michelle Warnick, who’s helping lead the Christmas spirit, shared that the town expects a bigger turnout to this year’s packed schedule.

Starting at 1 p.m. at the Capon Bridge Volunteer Fire Department, families can huddle together to make gingerbread houses with Santa and Mrs. Claus until 3:30 p.m.

At 4 p.m., the CB Christmas Parade, sponsored by K&C Construction, will begin its route from the Capon Bridge Middle School. The parade will turn on Cold Stream Road, back toward Route 50 and end at the back of the CBVFD. Drivers should expect Route 50 to be closed for 30 minutes, right around 4 p.m.

After the parade, folks can walk to the CBVFD Pavilion at 5 p.m. for a Christmas message, music, hot chocolate and snacks. There will also be a Christmas message and music at the other end of town, at the library, at 5 p.m.

Finally, the Mayor Laura Turner will speak at 6 p.m. at the CB Public Library, where the town’s tree will officially be lit up along with a nativity. Carolers will sing holiday classics.

“It’s been exciting. With (the mayor’s) help and our volunteers, it’s been a community project,” Warnick said.

The Christmas Tree Lighting at the library pavilion is dedicated to the local schools. The other Christmas forest will be located at the Fire Hall Pavilion, so families can roam around and enjoy the brightly lit tree forests.

Warnick mentioned that this year, she was incredibly thankful to the Pathways and Fire Department volunteers and Rob and Stacey Toothman, who helped make everything come together.

“The Capon Bridge Christmas Parade and Light up Capon Bridge are working together and accepting donations to help make this event grow and get better from year to year,” she added.

The CB Christmas Parade began last year by Brian Kerns, who originally began his own Christmas mini parade by passing out candy from his decorated company truck during the peak of the pandemic in 2020 when all events were canceled.

“Nobody was doing Santa in our town,” he recalled. So his friend got a costume, and they went around offering Christmas baggies.

“My favorite part was when I came through and crossed the bridge, and I saw all those smiling faces,” he added.

“We are expanding, and looking forward to future years,” Warnick said.

The rain date for all scheduled events is Sunday, Dec. 4.