Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, First Lady Joanne Tomblin, U.S. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, W.Va. Senator Truman Chafin (D-Mingo), Mingo County Delegate Steve Kominar, W.Va. Sen. Robert H. Plymale (D-Wayne), State Schools Superintendent Dr. Jorea Marple, School Building Authority Executive Director Dr. Mark A. Manchin, State Board of Education Member Priscilla Haden and Alpha Natural Resources President Kurt Kost joined James H. “Buck” Harless in cutting the ribbon on the new, state-of-the-art school and athletics complex on Friday.
Mingo Central is a consolidation of Burch, Gilbert, Matewan and Williamson high schools and is located on top of a reclaimed mine site in Newtown near Red Jacket and Matewan.
The school was first proposed in 1999 and ground was broken on the site in 2001. It sits beside what will be the King Coal Highway (U.S. Route 73) that runs through Mingo County.
Tomblin praised the new school.
“The facility is just fantastic,” Tomblin said. “It’s our goal that every student in the state will be able to attend a facility like this. What it will do for the students of Mingo County is just unbelievable. They can obtain a world-class education right here at home and that is something that, in the past, we were not able to offer them. Today, we’re blessed and fortunate to have this.”
Tomblin said the school is proof of the benefits of post-mine land use.
“This proves that post-mine land can be used for good purposes,” Tomblin said.
The governor called upon the communities of the consolidating schools to come together as one in the new school.
“My son recently graduated from Chapmanville Regional High School, which brought Harts High School into Chapmanville High, and, initially, there was some apprehension. But, after the first year, the students, parents and communities blended to make it a great school and I anticipate the same thing will happen right here at Mingo Central,” Tomblin said.
Rahall said the new school is “truly wonderful.”
“Thank God He has bestowed this upon the people of Mingo County,” Rahall said. “Buck Harless and Mike Whitt and the Mingo County Board of Education and so many other people came together to make this happen.”
Rahall said the school is the result of government and private businesses working together to improve opportunities in southern West Virginia.
“It’s the public-private partnership that helped make this a reality,” Rahall continued.
Nearly every speaker during the event thanked Harless and Redevelopment Authority Director Mike Whitt for their role in getting the new school built.
Harless has been a major contributor to the school and its field-turf football stadium. Reports say he wrote a check for at least $4.9 million to help fund the football field, which was named in his honor following the grand opening of the school.
Harless said he was amazed at the new school and all it has to offer students.
“It’s unbelievable,” Harless said. “We started thinking about this 20 years ago and I never thought it would come to fruition, but it did, and I am so proud.”
The new school is located on a 90-acre reclaimed mine site at Newtown, just outside Matewan and Red Jacket. It lies along what will be U.S. Route 73, which is also known as the King Coal Highway. The school will be for students grades 9-12.
Mingo Central’s mascot will be the Miners and the school’s colors are powderpuff blue, black and white.
The consolidation was first announced in 1999 to a group of about 50 Mingo County residents who were tasked to come up with a comprehensive plan for Mingo County’s school system that was suffering from declining enrollment and poor test scores.
Plans for the consolidation were drawn up around 2005, but funds were not in place. The school cost around $40 million to build and has a gymnasium that seats 2,500 and a turfed football stadium that seats 4,000. The school will reportedly offer more classes geared toward preparing students for college and the vocational school is also located on the campus. Enrollment is at 820 students.
Former Tug Valley High and Riverside Elementary Principal Deborah Harris is the principal at the new school.
Feeder schools for Mingo Central will be Burch Middle School, Gilbert K-8, Matewan Middle and Williamson Middle.