BridgeValley’s Planned Move to the Stone & Thomas Building in Charleston Looks Dead | Education
BridgeValley Community and Technical College’s second public plan to move from the main building on the South Charleston campus to a vacant structure in Charleston appears dead.
And the college’s recently reconstituted board of trustees may soon declare the idea officially over.
For years, the college has said it was looking to move out of a structure called Building 2000, in the West Virginia Regional Technology Park. In May 2018, former members of the BridgeValley Board of Governors technically voted to move the school to the former Staats Hospital building on the West Side of Charleston. But this relocation was subject to “feasibility studies” and further approval by BridgeValley’s cost board. The move never happened.
In November 2019, the board said publicly, for the first time, that it was considering moving to the old Stone & Thomas department store building in downtown Charleston.
The college created a master plan including the Stone & Thomas building. The written plan mainly mentioned the lack of adequate space in Building 2000 and mentioned other reasons for wanting to relocate, including the fact that the college is in the community it serves.
But the plan also tied the proposed move directly to the dispute between the college and Tech Park over how much to pay to stay in the 2000 building. The Gazette-Mail disclosed the dispute in 2017, when Tech Park threatened to evict. middle School. on non-payment.
Â«After my arrival at BVCTC [BridgeValley Community and Technical College] in 2016, we launched a third master plan based, in large part, following legal battles with the West Virginia Regional Tech Park, âBridgeValley president Eunice Bellinger wrote in the master plan. She noted the threat of eviction.
âThe very public nature of the conflict cost college enrollment and tarnished its reputation,â Bellinger wrote. âWe’ve only been recovering for two years. As a result of this action, the BVCTC Board of Governors ordered the college to vacate the property and find a new location.
Fast forward to October 2020, and the state-level community college supervisory board has placed BridgeValley’s master plan on one of its meeting agendas. But that council chairman, Bob Brown, said at the start of this discussion that his council would not vote on the plan on this October day due to a pending meeting between the college, the governor’s office and the department. West Virginia Revenue “because of the magnitude of this master plan and the proposal set out in it.”
Brown said his board would hold a special meeting “if there is … good reason to act quickly after the meeting with the governor’s office” and the revenue department.
The plan was not on any of the supervisory board meeting agendas, although the college requested that it be taken up.
Brown said representatives for BridgeValley ended up meeting with one or more representatives from the governor’s office or other state agency. But he said that, as of last week, the supervisory board still had not received any further financial information it had requested from the school.
âIt just felt like the projections of how this was going to turn out were a little soft, and we were looking for firmer commitments on how they were going to pay for it,â Brown said.
âWe were not necessarily opposed to this decision,â he said. âWe were trying to make sure it was financially feasible for the new property, as well as sorting out the bond issue on the old property.â
Bellinger said at the October supervisory board meeting that some financial details could in fact not be provided until the master plan was approved by the state-level board. She said the cost of occupying the Stone & Thomas building would not exceed what the college was already paying at Tech Park.
As part of the master plan, a private developer would have renovated the building to meet the needs of the college, and the college would have initially leased the building, with an option to eventually purchase it.
State Chancellor for Higher Education Sarah Tucker, a joint employee of the state’s community college board and a twin board that oversees four-year colleges, said last week that the plan to BridgeValley would have been “a major waste of taxpayer money”. Tucker, who is also a member of the Tech Park board, noted that the state incurred $ 13.5 million in debt to renovate the 2000 building to service the college. The college, at the time, was called Kanawha Valley, and it later merged with Bridgemont to form BridgeValley.
The state will continue to repay that debt until 2039, said Rich Donovan, senior facility manager for the same higher education supervisory boards Tucker sits on. Donovan said the obligations by which this debt, and other higher education-related debts, accrued were exempt from tax and that a for-profit entity could not occupy a vacant 2000 building without compromising the status tax exemption for all that debt.
Members of the state-level community college board raised other concerns at the October 2020 meeting. Member Steve Roberts, for example, asked how many BridgeValley students actually live near of the Stone & Thomas building. He also questioned the availability of parking.
Bellinger said the move to Stone & Thomas did not progress under the previous version of the BridgeValley board of directors because the state-level community college board ultimately never voted on the master plan. She said the project could not continue to earn certain tax credits without this approval.
Over the past month, the composition and leadership of BridgeValley’s board of directors has changed significantly.
The new version of the BridgeValley board may soon decide whether to continue pushing or officially drop the idea of ââthe Charleston move. He has an online-only meeting scheduled for 9am on Friday. The agenda includes an action item titled âMaster Plan Reviewâ. You can access the live stream link at bridge valley.edu/agendas-minutes.
The BridgeValley Board of Directors elected Ashley Deem as their new chair on April 16, during her first board meeting. The former president had been replaced by a new member by the governor and the state Senate.
Deem said last week that she wanted to give students and employees expectations soon as to where they would take classes or work.
âI think stability is the most important thing to move forward and, if I have a goal on the board, that’s what it is,â she said. âThings have been moving for so long that I think we need some direction, one way or the other, at this point.
She did not say if that would happen on Friday.
Deem said she and several other board members visited the college campuses in Montgomery and South Charleston. She said she came away confident, not only in the faculty, but “also in the infrastructure that we have now.”
âI think all the campuses are very beautiful, that they are taken care of and I think that the current campuses meet the needs of the students,â she said. But she’s part of a bigger board that has to make a decision.
At one point in the flow surrounding the 2000 building, BridgeValley sent an email saying the college was “discussing our move out of the 2000 building”, but with no mention of a move to any location in Charleston. Rather, the email stated that “the move plan will include steps to move offices and learning” to other locations on the college’s current South Charleston and Montgomery campuses, and that the plan “may also include a rotation of working hours at home â.
The email stated that the college hoped to have a “relocation plan finalized within 1 to 2 weeks.”
Bellinger said the email was about a “discussion” and not a relocation plan. She said it was a discussion the previous version of the advice said she wasn’t interested in having.
âNo plan was developed – there was a discussion we were talking about with the university community,â she said. She said “it’s not a big deal.”
âI don’t move a pencil, I don’t move a pen, nothing moves anywhere, period,â she says.
Earlier last month, the Senate confirmed Governor Jim Justice’s appointment of five members to the BridgeValley Board of Governors, which now has 11 members. Those April confirmations included the replacement, in lieu of reappointment, of President Sally Cline and fellow member Jane Harkins. Cline declined to comment; Harkins confirmed that she was willing to continue serving, but was not selected.
Brian Abraham, the judge’s chief of staff, said the terms of the two women had expired. He said two of the nominations were to fill vacant seats.
The fifth appointment was to occupy the seat of a board member who had illegally served on the board when he had been elected mayor. State law prohibits a person from serving on a community college board if they “hold any other public office, other than an elected county office.”
The election was uncovered, Abraham said, when another employee in the governor’s office performed a routine Google search to determine whether to reappoint the member because his term was soon expiring.
Abraham said he casually didn’t know the member’s name, but Daniel Wright, now a former vice chairman of the BridgeValley board, became mayor of Oak Hill in 2019.
Although Abraham said the governor’s office was aware of financial concerns about the planned move to Stone & Thomas, he said that was not the reason Harkins and Cline were not returned.
âWe’ve been getting complaints from what appear to be professors and students for some time,â Abraham said. âMost of them come anonymously, but we have received many complaints about the way the school was run.â
He said those complaints were about effective programs being shut down while ineffective programs being started and continued despite a low enrollment rate. He said the complaints also included senior executives being hired out of state and allowed to continue living out of state.
âWe didn’t do a survey, but there were many and had common themes,â Abraham said. He said the governor “thought it was worth taking a fresh look at the institution and seeing if these things were right or not.”
Of this, Bellinger said, “These are just unsubstantiated allegations.”