CHARLES TOWN – Nearly every Jefferson County government, it seems, is “lawyering up,” consulting separate attorneys over the Rockwool Group factory planned for Ranson.

The Jefferson County Commission.

The Jefferson County Development Authority.

The Charles Town City Council.

The Charles Town Utility Board.

And now the school board, too.

On Monday night, the Jefferson County Board of Education heard closed-door legal advice from a law firm it hired “to begin exploring the ramifications” of withdrawing from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) tax agreement that the school board signed last October.

After having trouble finding a West Virginia law firm without a conflict of interest and with expertise to help with contract matters, the school board hired the Pittsburgh law firm Reed Smith.

The board is working with attorneys involved with the firm’s real estate practice group with experience in state funding of economic development projects.

The school board also issued statement updating the status of its work with Rockwool to produce an independent human health risk assessment on the potential local health, environmental and traffic safety impact the company’s factory might impose.

The study, to be funded by Rockwool, would be directed by a committee of school board officials and local residents. It would particularly focus on the factory’s potential effect upon children.

The 130-acre factory site lies across Charles Town Road near North Jefferson Elementary School and within four miles of Jefferson High, Wildwood Middle and T.A. Lowery Elementary.

The school board stated that Rockwool has agreed that the assessment should be developed with a licensed toxicologist with expertise “to provide a critical analysis of the effects on children.”  

The school board stated that a committee to oversee the assessment will be formed and will include a Rockwool representative, two school system employees, two parents and a student either from Jefferson or Washington high schools. Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson will serve as the committee’s secretary.  

By Monday, school officials say people will be able to apply to serve on the assessment committee through the school system’s website, boe.jeff.k12.wv.us.

“While the [school board] is pleased that Rockwool has agreed to these terms, they are disappointed that the company has refused numerous requests from the board to halt all construction at the Ranson site until the Human Health Risk Assessment is completed,” the board’s formal statement read.

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