Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 20, 2013

Reconnecting McDowell: More positive progress underway

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The public-private Reconnecting McDowell initiative is making pivotal progress on two fronts — teacher housing and broadband growth. And this is a continuation of the positive education-related developments we’ve seen in McDowell County since the launch of the Reconnecting McDowell initiative nearly two years ago.

Of particular significance is the recent announcement that the Edinburgh, Va.-based Shentel Communications is getting closer toward reaching its target goal of extending high-speed broadband to 10,000 homes and businesses in McDowell County. The broadband expansion project was launched last year as part of the Reconnecting McDowell campaign.

Shentel Communications has quietly been hard at work completing the broadband upgrade in recent months. In addition to the homes and businesses to be served, all county schools also were recently wired with fiber optics by Frontier Communications.

Shentel Communications has invested $10 million to extend the high-speed broadband Internet access, Chris Kyle of Shentel said last week. The company operates in both West Virginia and Virginia.

“We’re actually a 110-year-old phone company,” Kyle said. “We have a fiber network that runs all over the state. Our focus is on small communities.”

The new service is now available in many parts of McDowell County. It extends to communities in the Northfork, Kimball, Welch, Iaeger, Bradshaw, War and Anawalt areas. The project’s construction phase is scheduled to be complete by the first quarter of 2014.

The extension of broadband to another 10,000 homes in McDowell County is a significant and welcomed development. All parties involved in the broadband extension project are to be applauded for this all-important initiative.

The Reconnecting McDowell partners also are hard at work preparing for a teacher village project. As has been well documented in recent years, many teachers working in McDowell County don’t actually live in McDowell County. This problem is largely attributed to the lack of housing, and continued infrastructure challenges, facing McDowell County.

The proposed teacher village would provide a place for teachers and other educational professionals to reside in McDowell County. The teacher village as currently proposed would provide approximately 30 housing units. It is being designed by Community Housing Partners Design Studio.

The design firm is scheduled to present various options at Reconnecting McDowell’s Dec. 17 board of directors meeting in Charleston. The board plans to vote on one of the options after the presentation on Dec. 17.

McDowell County Schools Superintendent Nelson Spencer says the teacher village would basically be a “one-unit building” with apartments for teachers and a ground floor study area, possibly with a coffee shop and other amenities.

“It would be a great recruitment and retention tool for McDowell County,” Spencer said last week. “There are a couple of locations in the city of Welch, but there has been nothing definitive as to where it would be. The architect will give two proposals, three proposals, or whatever as far as property is available.”

Getting more McDowell County teachers to actually live in McDowell County is important. The teacher village should be a big help. It, too, is another welcomed addition of the Reconnecting McDowell campaign.