Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


May 29, 2014

Housing for teachers: McDowell County project a win for all

— — It is not unusual for some residents in our region to commute a good distance to and from work. But when one’s chosen place of employment is located a good distance from their home and requires commuting along a dangerous corridor like U.S. Route 52, it can create challenges. And such has been the case in recent years for many teachers who work in McDowell County but choose to live in surrounding counties.

Many of the teachers who have been asked by school administrators about their decision to commute to work attribute their daily travel to a lack of available housing in McDowell County. And that lack of modern housing has also created problems for the school system in recent years in terms of an unusually high number of teacher vacancies. That’s why ongoing efforts to develop new housing for teachers working in the county is both welcomed and necessary.

It was recently announced that two structures — the old Best Furniture and Katzen buildings in Welch along with their attached parking lots — have been acquired for $92,000 as part of the Reconnecting McDowell partnership in an effort to create new housing for teachers and other professionals who want to work in McDowell County.

And it is the hope of school and Reconnecting McDowell officials that the new apartment-style housing project — dubbed a teacher’s village — will assist with both the recruitment and retention of teachers.

The partnership’s board of directors will decide at its next meeting whether to demolish the Best Furniture and Katzen buildings for new construction or to totally renovate the existing buildings. A ground-breaking ceremony will follow shortly thereafter. Financing for the construction is being put together now, Reconnecting McDowell officials say.

“This is an enormous step forward in Reconnecting McDowell’s goal to attract great teachers to McDowell, to encourage them to stay, and become integral members of the community, and to reinvigorate the economy in McDowell County,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the convening partner of Reconnecting McDowell, said last week.

Current plans call on Community Housing Partners Design Studio of Christiansburg, Va., to design the teachers village, which will include about 30 housing units, areas for residents to collaborate and relax, and community amenities such as a street-level coffee shop.

We look forward to the start of construction on this long-awaited project. It should certainly help in correcting the chronic teacher vacancy problem local school officials have been dealing with in recent years. And keeping those teachers who work for the local school system in the area also will have the added benefit of helping the local economy of McDowell County. That’s why the new housing project is a win-win for all.

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