Flooding Devastates Elk River Communities
A little over seven years ago, on June 23-24, 2016, communities throughout West Virginia were devastated by “thousand-year” rainfall and subsequent flooding. The worst of the damage was concentrated in Kanawha, Fayette, Nicholas, Summers, and Greenbrier counties. A reported 23 people lost their lives in the floods.
In addition to the lives lost, countless homes destroyed, the roads washed out, and businesses never to be opened again, a number of these communities, especially the town of Clendenin along the Elk River lost key cornerstones of their communities – their local schools. Both Clendenin Elementary School and Herbert Hoover High School sustained enough damage from the floods to render repairs and remediation prohibitive. The damages to Hoover totaled 70% of its appraised value. The damages to Clendenin Elementary reached nearly 97%.
Some of the Elk River youth lost their personal homes. Some lost their academic homes. Many lost both.
West Virginia Schools Adapt to Aid Displaced Students
In the 2016-17 school year, Bridge Elementary School welcomed the displaced Clendenin Elementary students to their campus with larger class sizes until portable classrooms could be installed on-site. The students of Elkview Middle and Herbert Hoover High shared the middle school campus on half-day schedules. The younger students attended from 7:30am to noon, and the high schoolers from noon to 4:30pm until the portable high school could be constructed.
On some level, the scheduling and the accommodations of the students and teachers were a microcosm of the entire Elk River community’s response to the floods. Everyone did the best they could in the face of the limited resources available, while at the same time being wholly good-hearted and generous with what they had.
In subsequent years, the elementary school children had a reliable portable system on the Bridge Elementary campus, and the high school was housed entirely in portable units on the middle school campus.
Elk River Community Rose to the Occasion
Despite the hardships, this community rose valiantly. Teachers poured their hearts into their profession. Students absorbed the lessons from their instructors. High school athletes rose to the occasion. And above all, the people of the Elk River poured their hearts and souls into supporting the youth that embodied the hard-scrabble spirit and resiliency of the community they call home.
In 2017, the boys’ basketball team earned their first ever trip to the state tournament. That same year, the girls’ softball team earned their first of five straight state championships. From 2016-2023, the boys’ baseball and basketball teams earned other berths to their respective state tournaments. In what now feels like a note of serendipity, the football team played for the state championship in December.
Recall – these are student athletes who saw their equipment destroyed in the 2016 flood, went to school in temporary classrooms for seven years, and all the while never really had “home” field facilities to practice or play on in the full sense when we think of the high school experience. Yet these Huskies thrived.
New Educational Home for the Elk River Community
Last week, students finally entered their new home at the new Herbert Hoover High School in Elkview. Saturday, they and the rest of the Elk River community christened the football field with a scrimmage against John Marshall High School and welcomed a most special guest, Brad Paisley, to celebrate the event.
Capturing the sentiments of many, Paisley said, “Today, what you’ve done with it, this is the nicest high school I’ve seen in my entire life. I can’t tell you how it feels to see something that terrible turned into something so inspiring.” (Brad Paisley remarks at the celebration, from WCHS Facebook page.)
Truly, it is a marvelous facility. My mom and I drove onto the campus Friday to see the new facility. We were there during the quiet hours of the early evening. After the students had left and before Saturday’s buzz rose toward fever pitch was a good time to visit. Milling about the new campus, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a very solemn, reverent occasion.
Nor do I imagine I’m the only one who feels this way.
(credit: Scott Abbott Photo, Facebook)
Despite the long journey to build the new high school, I haven’t heard anyone suggest that the wait wasn’t worthwhile. Not only do the students have a new, top-of-the-line facility for their academic (and athletic) pursuits, the community has one of its cornerstones back in place.
Not only is it a community cornerstone, the new high school is the Crown Jewel of the Elk River. In this author’s humble opinion, it should be the Crown Jewel of Kanawha County and the whole state.
Student Response to New Herbert Hoover Building
Class of 2018 Hoover graduate, Taylor Bailey, said of the entire experience:
Although I hated to see Hoover washed away and left in shambles, I think it was a blessing in disguise. It’s not often a small town gets something as grand as a new high school. Usually that would go to larger schools like George Washington if Kanawha County Schools ever talked about revamping a school.
I truly couldn’t think of a more deserving staff than Hoover’s. They truly care about not only the school, but each individual who walks through their doors and they made that known from Day 1 when I attended.
If I see any teacher or principal of Hoover, they still speak to me and know me by name – might be because I was a loud, talkative student but I feel as though they make it a point to remember everyone’s names. Not only do they go out of their way to learn students’ faces and names but they instill in their students from Day 1 the importance of putting in the work to achieve their goals.
I hope the students who get to attend the new Herbert Hoover High School building understand the privilege it is to walk through those doors everyday.
I’m thankful I was – and always will be – a Hoover Husky.
This is not a community to be pitied. This community represents the best of humanity, and everything that being a good neighbor and West Virginian is all about.
I’m not a Husky, but I’m proud to be from the Elk River. Hopefully, I’ll see you some Friday night under the bright lights in Elkview!
Jessi Troyan is the Policy & Research Director for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.