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Board of Education hears both sides of Rockwool land issue

By Staff | May 17, 2019

Lynn Hardy holds up a sign urging Board of Education members to resign, following their recent court battle with Rockwool. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN — The Jefferson County Board of Education listened to more than an hour’s worth of public comment at their regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday evening.

Many comments focused on the board’s recent action, seeking to obtain the property owned by Rockwool and use it for a Regional Student Support Center.

On April 9, the board allegedly told Rockwool it had outstanding plans to construct the center, and offered to buy 194.7 acres of Rockwool’s property for its market value of $1,362,900. According to court documents, the board threatened to condemn the property if the offer was rejected.

Rockwool then filed a civil lawsuit against the board. In Federal Court, Chief U.S. District Judge Gina Groh ruled in favor of Rockwool, granting the company a preliminary injunction to prohibit the Jefferson County Board of Education from taking “any further action in furtherance of its threat to condemn Rockwool’s property. “

Many board meeting attendees called for the resignations of Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson and four of the board members, Kathy Skinner, Laurie Ogden, Gary Kable and Arthena Roper, all of whom voted to attempt to obtain the Rockwool property, if not by purchase, then by condemnation and imminent domain. Board member Mark Osbourn abstained from the vote taken on the action.

Lynn Hardy, one of the first to address the board Monday, said she does not know how much the Board of Education spent on lawyers for this action, but she has heard rumors that if they move forward it could cost more than $1 million.

“Where will that money come from?” she questioned. “I am just thoroughly disgusted.”

Ray Bruning also spoke against the board’s efforts, pointing out that “you voted at 11:50 p.m. on an item not on your agenda, in violation of the open meetings law.” Bruning urged the board to “work with Rockwool. You need to stop blocking and work with them.”

Dan Casto, president of Jefferson County Properity, also addressed the board questioning their actions.

“The lawsuit was laughable,” Casto said. “You hired a lawyer not even licensed in West Virginia. You violated your oath of office and the Constitution. Be the adults in the room, and quit wasting taxpayer money.”

None of the speakers opposed the proposed Student Support Center, but rather paying for a legal battle with tax dollars designated for the education of Jefferson County’s children.

Not all speakers opposed the board’s actions, however. Several voiced their support, including Mark Wilson, the parent of a child suffering from asthma.

“I appreciate you looking out for the health of our children,” Wilson told board members. “Finally I’ve seen leadership in this town. You stepped up and gave us a voice.”

Clay Anders, a teacher at C.W. Shipley Elementary School, agreed with Wilson.

“I feel the majority of the county supports you,” Anders said. “By using imminent domain you are keeping kids safe.”

The board members gave no responses to individual comments, as is the practice in the public comment segment of their meeting. No agenda items addressed the lawsuit and Groh’s ruling. The board went into executive session at the end of their meeting for “personnel matters” and “legal matters,” but indicated no action would be taken on the legal matters when they completed the executive session.