The trip to the site of the school that is scheduled to be ready for use by August of 2011 was sponsored by Mingo County School Superintendent Randy Keathley and the Central office staff. The school is designed for the merger of high schools at Williamson, Delbarton, Matewan and Gilbert.
Representatives of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce and members of the Mingo County Board of Education were special guests along with the media and other individuals.
Throughout the tour, the visitors repeatedly described the building as "beautiful", "wonderful", "amazing" and "unbelievable".
Also, there were those who deemed the building as "institutional" and needing warmth. Those also questioned whether the scheduled June 2011 completion date is realistic.
Friday's trip varied from previous ones in that the touring group traveled a different and longer route than usual, providing close-up views of the new King Coal Highway. Construction is progressing quickly with concrete paving advancing as much a mile a day from the school complex toward Horsepen Creek in the Gilbert area.
The four-lane highway has been cut out of some of the most rugged territory in West Virginia but when completed will serve not only the comprehensive school but an area reaching to Naugatuck for connection with major thoroughfares.
Those touring the school's construction site, armed with warm jackets and gloves to protect themselves against the cold but invigorating atmosphere atop the mountain, convened at the Mingo County Career and Technical Center Friday morning. Keathley welcomed the group and introduced Terry Sammons, president of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, who spoke on Post Mine Land Use and Economic Diversity with a video presentation supporting his comments.
Sammons' main themes were use of mine land for projects and the importance of making sure they are self-sustaining. (A more complete report on his comments will follow in a Sunday story.)
Among the tour group were Architect Ted Shriver of Williamson Shriver Architects Inc., Charleston; Construction Manager Maynard C. Smith (Construction Company), Charleston; a general contractor from Neighborgall Construction, Huntington.
The $37 million high school, whose logo is "Mingo Miners" (designed by Josh Adams, a former graphic arts student at the Mingo County Career and Technical Center), is situated on 90 acres of land donated by Nicewonder Contracting Inc. and Alpha Natural Resources.
It has been estimated that the donated land represents a value approximating $40 million. The $37 million that financed the construction of the school was provided through grants from the state School Building Authority.
The size of the building encompasses 172,535 square feet.
"It is hard to envision how large and how expansive this property is," Shriver said.
Visitors walked through the first and second floors of the school complex. The facility includes 60 teaching spaces, a dining room/commons area with a seating capacity of 488, an 80-member band room (to complement what is envisioned as a competitive marching band), an auditorium with seating for 400. To the right of the main entrance and commons, is a gymnasium with a lower level seating capacity of 810 and and upper level seating accommodations for 1,350. The building also includes an auxiliary gym adjacent to the main gymnasium
The building's classrooms are built for science, business, special education, math, computers, social studies, a media center, language arts, driver's education/health, foreign languages and arts. Other space will accommodate an administration complex, a vocational and technical training wing, support and circulation areas.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Bobbera last week discussed some of the sports features that are expected to make everybody sit up and take notice.
Bobbera said a variety of sports will be offered at the new school, adding that the Larry Joe Harless Community Center at Gilbert will sponsor a swim team at the new high school. The center's facilities include an Olympic-sized indoor pool which will be the focal point of this sport.
In addition, the comprehensive high school will have soccer, golf, baseball, basketball, softball, soccer, tennis and weight-lifting. The Twisted Gun golf course at Wharncliffe and the Tug Valley Country Club golf course at Sprigg will be used by the golf team. Additional specialties in the field of sports will be announced as they develop later.
As for an athletic complex at the new school which will include football, baseball and softball fields, there is a concerted effort to raise private funds through formation of a foundation to gain endowments from corporate groups, public officials and citizens who may want to share with contributions be they big or small. (A subsequent Daily News story will provide details on this project.)
The price tag according to Shriver will be in the range of $7 million to $8 million. He said the cost of the complex still includes some variables that has to be decided such as whether to construct a separate soccer area or to combine it with the football field which most likely would entail scheduling conflicts for the respective teams.
Shriver said the football stadium will have the first priority.
Parking accommodations include 11 visitor spaces; 100 staff spaces expandable to 199; and 211 spaces for student/events (expandable to 311).
It has been reported that the King Coal Highway construction work is providing 72 jobs. Construction at this time extends from the Taylorville area to the Gilbert area. The school construction work also involves 300 or more workers, it was unofficially reported.
A veteran Mingo County educator, Deborah T. Harris, has been named as principal of the new school by Dr. Steven Paine, state superintendent of schools. Keathley made the announcement that Harris' appointment was effective Oct. 28. She will continue in her present assignment as principal of Tug Valley High School during transition to a new principal.
Not to be overlooked in Friday's tour of the road and school construction sites is the school bus driver Brenda Chaney, who demonstrated her expertise in navigating the rugged terrain to and from the school. She has been a bus operator for Mingo County schools for six years and prior to that, drove a school bus in South Carolina for four or five years.