By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
McDowell County wants to attract new public school teachers, but these new recruits often cannot find a place to live and are forced to reside outside the county. A plan to create convenient accommodations for educators recently took another move forward.
The Reconnecting McDowell partnership’s plan to build housing in Welch for teachers and other professionals is progressing with the hiring of an architect, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced recently.
Reconnecting McDowell, the almost two-year-old public-private partnership, was created to revitalize West Virginia’s long-struggling McDowell County by improving schools, encouraging economic development, and addressing families’ social and health care needs.
Reconnecting McDowell chose Community Housing Partners Design Studio to design a Teachers Village in downtown Welch, which could provide approximately 30 housing units, officials with the partnership said. The design firm will 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.
“We continue to hear that new housing is essential to bring in great teachers who will want to stay, and to spearhead an economic revival in the downtown area,” Weingarten said.
McDowell County Schools Superintendent Nelson Spencer said the Teachers 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. “There’s a couple of locations in the town 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.”
Possible approaches include acquiring an existing building and renovating it, or constructing a new building, Spencer said. Studies of factors such as structural soundness and environmental issues would have to be conducted when a decision is made.
Colin Arnold, managing principal of Community Housing Partners of Christiansburg, Va., said his firm hopes to break ground in spring 2014, using West Virginian union workers.
“We are thrilled and proud to be working with Reconnecting McDowell on this very exciting project. Our firm specializes in creating affordable, green, sustainable communities, which will be the foundation of whatever design the partnership ultimately chooses,” Arnold said.
West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin, who is chair of the Reconnecting McDowell board, noted that Community Housing Partners has designed other projects in West Virginia, including in White Sulphur Springs and Oak Hill.
“McDowell residents are understandably excited about the headway we’re beginning to make on economic development and on many other fronts to effect sustainable changes in this great community,” Manchin said.