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COVID-19 BATTLE: Bright spots emerge
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The battle against Covid-19 got all sorts of good news over the last week.

• Hampshire County improved to Yellow Status on the state’s 5-color tracking map — the best it has been since Thanksgiving.

• Gov. Jim Justice expanded vaccinations to include anyone 50 or older, or 16 and older with a medical condition, as vaccine supplies continue to grow.

• The Centers for Disease Control lifted some restrictions on people who are vaccinated, including visiting with each other maskless.

“We’re going to move more aggressively to try to get more people vaccinated and widen the scope of our vaccination efforts,” Justice said last Thursday, “because, at the end of the day, we’re going to start having more vaccines available to us and we want to just keep pushing them out.”

West Virginia is nearing 600,000 total doses administered, about a 3rd of the state’s population.

Hampshire County has seen 5,278 doses administered, about 22 percent of the people here. Some 465 people were vaccinated last Thursday in another of the Health Department’s clinics at Hope Christian Church Augusta.

Hampshire’s status improved to Yellow after having only 7 new cases of the virus over the 6 days ending Monday.

That brought the positivity rate down to 3.75 percent while the infection rate — cases per 100,000 population — remained in Gold range.

The Health Department said that as of Monday night, only 15 cases were active in Hampshire County and 2 of those were hospitalized.

Over the course of the yearlong pandemic, 1,591 people here have tested positive for coronavirus and 28 have died.

The qualifying medical conditions for those under 50 to receive the vaccine include Down syndrome, intellectual and developmental disabilities, congenital or acquired disease, organ or bone marrow transplant, obesity (a body mass index greater than 35), sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and pregnancy.

In addition, caretakers for the developmentally delayed or people with congenital or acquired disease are eligible.

Also, all school employees over age 40 are eligible.

The CDC’s guidance says those who have received a full course of Covid-19 vaccine may get together with others who are fully vaccinated in small groups inside their homes without masks or physical distancing. They can visit with unvaccinated people from 1 other household who are at low risk for severe disease.

The guidelines say fully vaccinated people don’t need to quarantine or take a Covid-19 test if they’ve been exposed, unless they’re showing symptoms. They should still monitor for symptoms for 14 days even if they're not in quarantine. 

Vaccinated people should still wear a mask and social distance in public settings and avoid bigger gatherings.

Teen helping teens: ‘Piggest Raffle Ever’
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With a little help from the Hampshire County Farm Bureau, Ladd came up with a fundraiser: “The Piggest Raffle Ever.”

“This raffle is going to benefit 5 different families with unexpected circumstances who have been an FFA member or who is a current FFA members,” Ladd explained.

Among the peers Ladd is aiming to support is Tessa Carpenter (a Capon Bridge teen whose inoperable brain tumor and treatment poses a number of challenges to she and her family), Anthony Voit (who has gone through treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system), Chloe Myers (who suffered a trampoline accident in August that resulted in nerve damage to her leg and a long road to recovery), Cody Eaton (whose hospital treatment has brought financial challenges to his family) and Derek and Jay Lee, the sons of Tricia Lee, who passed away at the end of January.

The raffle with be sponsored by both Brushy Ridge and the Hampshire County Farm Bureau, and Ladd said the amount of support she’s gotten so far is “crazy.”

“I’m extremely thankful to be able to do this for my peers,” she said. “I’m really proud of how Hampshire County comes together.”

Though the tickets aren’t available yet, Ladd plans to sell 1,000 tickets, for $10 each, which will give each family $2,000. She said she’s currently asking several local businesses for additional prizes, but she’s donating a hog as the grand prize.

There will be 2 winners who will get half a hog each, vacuum-packed and freezer ready.

Ladd added that she’s grateful for the support of the Bank of Romney, especially. They donated $1,000 to the raffle already, starting the event off with a bang.

“I am so excited to be able to do this for my classmates and friends,” she added.

Ladd said folks can watch the Brushy Ridge Farm Facebook page for updates with the raffle.

WVSDB to combine schools
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$13.5 million, 10-year facility plan supports operational changes

WVSDB plans to group all students up through grade 5 — deaf and blind together — in the current School for the Blind building and grades 6-12 in the current School for the Deaf.

In addition:

• All residential students will be housed in Keller Hall starting this August;

• Administration will move to Seaton Hall in 2022;

• The oldest building on campus, the Blue-Gold Café, will be renovated next year as a recreational activities center; and

• A technical assistance center for accessibility serving the entire state is being established at the Instructional Resource Center.

Approval of the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan is on the agenda for the State Board of Education in Charleston today (Wednesday, March 10). The plan was finalized last week after a public hearing held via Zoom last Wednesday.

The plan outlines the projected physical needs for the school over the next 10 years, which began, acting Superintendent Pat Homberg noted, with the schools’ goals and objectives.

“We were able to go building by building and identify what the needs of each building was and marry that with the educational needs of the school moving into the next decade,” she told the 4 dozen people in the hour-long meeting.

The bottom line is a $13.5 million proposal to renovate and shore up buildings.

“Our CEFP is not that grand,” Homberg said. She compared it to WVSDB’s 2010 plan, the 1st in the history of the schools, which sought $45 million and included new construction. Most of it never occurred.

Homburg said the bulk of the funding through 2029 — $11 million-plus — would come from the schools’ existing legislative allocation each year.

The rest, a little over $2 million, would be supplied by the School Building Authority, which cannot give more than $250,000 to WVSDB in any given year.

Homberg said that the plan helps the schools spend their funds the most effectively and positions WVSDB for growth.

Part of the plan calls for expanding career-technical education offerings, either on campus or in conjunction with Hampshire High School.

And she pointed to the state’s establishment of the accessibility technical support program at the IRC as a sign of its commitment to the schools and Romney.

“Both the State Board of Education and (State School Superintendent) Clayton Burch very much want the school to be brought up to speed, to increase enrollment,” she said. “That’s 1 reason the technical assistance center is being placed here.”

The center will include 2 counselors from the Department of Rehabilitation Services to work with the visually and hearing impaired here and across the state.

Much of the funding is earmarked for structural projects. Fire alarm systems are being upgraded in both school buildings, both residence halls, the IRC, administration and maintenance buildings this year.

The 6-12 school, IRC and a wing of the old Elementary Deaf building are due new roofs next year with Keller Hall being reroofed in 2023 and a 2027 date for roofs on Seaton Hall, the pre-k-5 school and the P.E. building.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are being upgraded at the IRC this year, the pre-k-5 school next year, Seaton Hall in 2025 and the 6-12 school in 2027.

Administrative offices will move to Seaton Hall because the 121-year-old Administration Building needs the central entrance replaced and extensive structural repairs to the foundation.

Seaton Hall will also house lodging for visiting adults as well as students attending short courses on campus.

In 2023, a parking lot beside the IRC will be established where the Arnold House was demolished 3 years ago during a summer-long National Guard project.

Three buildings are slated for demolition in 2029 — the boiler house, Hines Hollow house and the transportation building.

The plan also includes transferring a lot fronting Depot Street to Hampshire County Schools to be included in the site of Hampshire’s new West Elementary.

School site to be auctioned April 10
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The 36-acre plot known as Lovett’s Flat will be auctioned to the highest bidder at 9 a.m. April 10, a Saturday.

The auction comes 4 years after the school board declared the land surplus property and a couple of years since the heir to the original seller declined to repurchase it for the $250,000 the schools paid in 2000.

A 2018 appraisal valued the land at $145,000.

The board authorized the sale in 2017 as it searched for a way out of a $300,000 budget shortfall. Just a year earlier the board had voted against giving up the property.

The budget that year ended up being balanced without giving up Lovett’s Flat, but a new engineering report made clear that the land could never be used for school construction.

Big issues included potential flooding and the lack of safe entrance onto U.S. 50.

Per state law, the board was required to offer the land back to the seller for the original price. Attorney Ralph Haines sold the 36 acres to the schools in 2000 and owned 643 acres surrounding 3 sides of the property.

His daughter, Linda Jane Haines, declined the repurchase and lobbied the board to keep it.

“I am concerned on giving up on our county’s recovery,” Haines said at a March 2017 board meeting. “This is the wrong message to send. I encourage you to keep the property for when you need it.”

She also said that her father only sold the land due to an understanding that it would be used for the original purpose intended. “He wouldn’t have sold it otherwise,” Haines said. “He would have held onto it.”

Capon Bridge lost its high school in 1964 when Hampshire High opened on Sunrise Summit, a combination of CBHS and Romney High School.

Hampshire County’s population peaked in 2010 at about the same time HHS’s enrollment peaked around 1,200 students. Both have been declining since then.

Since West Virginia’s School Building Authority has said it won’t fund construction of a new high school with less than 800 students, hopes for a new Capon Bridge High remain a distant dream.

Sherrard Auction Company of Capon Bridge will conduct the sale, which will be held at the board office, 111 School St.

The 35.897 acres are being sold as is. The winning bidder must pay a 10 percent deposit on the day of the auction and the rest of the money within 60 days.

Summer outlook: Corn, beef prices on the rise
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A delay in harvesting corn crops there is one of the big factors that is sending corn prices higher here.

Significantly higher.

Corn that was selling for $3.50 or $3.75 a bushel a year ago is running over $5 a bushel now, farmer John Arnold laments. That’s an increase of 50 percent or better.

It won’t be reflected in just those ears of sweet corn you’ll be looking for around July 4. Field corn is a principal food for cattle too. Higher inputs ultimately mean higher beef prices.

It gets worse.

“Fertilizer prices are about 20 percent higher than they were at this time last year,” says Terry Crouse, manager at Romney’s Southern States. “With increasing fuel costs and increasing transport costs, I expect those inputs will continue to rise.”

It’s a cycle that the relatively small crops of corn in Hampshire can’t break, but the folks who plant them feel the consequences of.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Hampshire County produced 62,611 bushels of corn in 2017 — less than 10 percent of the 658,210 bushels grown in neighboring Hardy County the same year.

By comparison, Successful Farming’s Feb. 19 issue said corn production across the United States this year could top 15 billion bushels, possibly an all-time high.

Demand for corn is up, too, from Pilgrim’s in Moorefield, which is paying good coin for, well, chicken feed, to processors in China, who are feeding 1.3 billion people.

Beef Magazine’s website said last month that “corn and other feedstuff prices are increasing, which is putting pressure on feeder cattle prices.”

If there’s good news, it’s the weather.

“It’s been several winters since we didn’t see the ground for several weeks,” Crouse noted. “The good thing about that is the ground was covered, it melted slow and the moisture went into the ground instead of running off.”