Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

June 23, 2012

‘Teacher village’ —  Reconnecting McDowell targets housing

One of the biggest challenges facing McDowell County officials at the moment is the lack of modern housing facilities. New housing is needed to keep teachers, and employees at the federal prison, in the county.

When those individuals who work in the state-controlled school system, or at the new Federal Correctional Institution McDowell facility at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park in Welch live outside of the county, that’s lost tax revenue for McDowell County.

In an attempt to address the teacher housing problem, a new “teacher village” has been proposed as part of the five-year Reconnecting McDowell initiative. A five-story building in Welch, which once housed the old Best Furniture Company, is proposed to be converted into housing for teachers. The development will include unique amenities such as TV lounges, exercise rooms, group work areas and even a restaurant.

The state Board of Education assumed control of the school system more than a decade ago, and retains partial control of the local schools to date.

Bob Brown, a member of the Reconnecting McDowell campaign, discussed the project with the state Board of Education last week. Brown said the “teachers village” will give young educators another housing option while also serving as a tool to recruit teachers in the future.

The 20 to 25 multi-room apartments should be completed by August 2013.

“The apartment complex has been in the planning stages since last fall,” Mike Callaway, president of the locally-elected McDowell County Board of Education, said Monday. “I understand they are looking at the old Best Furniture Company in Welch, which is four stories. They are planning on putting in new facilities and things like that will be much more appealing for some of the teachers.”

Callaway said many teachers working for the school system currently live outside of McDowell County. That can make for a long, sometimes dangerous, commute. Additionally, Callaway said living so far from work has led many teachers to find positions elsewhere.

“Unless they are home-grown teachers, most teachers live elsewhere in Bluefield, Princeton or Wyoming County,” Calloway said. “Most seem to be living in Mercer County. Route 52 is what most of them use to commute and it’s not an easy road on the best of days. In the winter, it can be very difficult to drive. The lack of housing in McDowell County contributes to teacher retention rates, which is not good. We have inherited a bad situation and we are trying to improve it.”

We agree. Route 52 is a treacherous road to drive even in the best of conditions. And until a Congress that is hopelessly divided by partisan political lines can agree upon a new long, term, federal highway bill, the future King Coal Highway corridor — the future replacement of Route 52 — remains stalled.

The “teacher village” should help in keeping a few more McDowell County teachers closer to home. It’s another benefit of the Reconnecting McDowell initiative.

 

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