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BridgeValley faces eviction over $1.8M in back rent

By JAKE JARVIS

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — BridgeValley Community and Technical College could be evicted from its campus in South Charleston in a week for not paying almost two years worth of rent, documents obtained by the Gazette-Mail show.

BridgeValley Community and Technical College is located in South Charleston’s West Virginia Regional Technology Park. (Photo by Kenny Kemp)

Lawyers for the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, the landlord, wrote a letter to the school’s president in early May asking her to pay more than $1.8 million for unpaid fees by June 7. Without full payment, the Tech Park plans to evict the school and start looking for a new tenant, according to a copy of the letter.

BridgeValley President Eunice Bellinger said Tuesday the school had not paid the rent because it has no current lease agreement with the Tech Park. The school’s most recent lease expired June 30, 2015, and the school hasn’t signed any agreement since.

“We have the money we need to pay the bill, and we have money in reserve to cover costs for a period of time,” Bellinger said.

She said she plans to pay what the landlord is asking only if they can reach an agreement by June 7.

Bellinger described the letter threatening to evict her school as “merely an ongoing conversation.”

The public community college has two campuses, one in South Charleston and one in Montgomery. In the first, it occupies three buildings at the Tech Park — Building 2000, Building 704 and the Advanced Technology Center. Bellinger said the school already has agreed to pay for the ATC, which will cost about $221,440.

This leaves the school’s supposedly unpaid balance at roughly $1.6 million. With a week until the Tech Park’s deadline to pay, Bellinger said the school has not reached an agreement.

Dow Chemical donated the Tech Park to the state in 2010 and the Higher Education Policy Commission owns the property. HEPC representatives would not comment for this report.

HEPC spokeswoman Jessica Kennedy said that, although her agency owns the property, it leaves the day-to-day operations of it to a board of directors at the Tech Park. HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill is an ex-officio member of that board.

An executive committee of BridgeValley’s governing board met May 17 for an approximately 20-minute executive session. After coming out of that session, the committee authorized Bellinger to contact the state Attorney General’s Office for legal help with the dispute. Bellinger said the attorney the school was assigned by the Attorney General’s Office is trying to make sense of the history of the lease.

“There have been ongoing negotiations on what would be appropriate,” Bellinger said after that meeting. “They are alleging that they made an offer that I do not — we have no proof they made that offer. So I don’t have any proof they offered that.”

Documents obtained by the Gazette-Mail under the Freedom of Information Act show that Tech Park representatives gave the school at least three lease proposals of varying costs and lengths to take effect after the most recent lease ended in 2015. In each of those offers, Tech Park representatives said the cost of the proposed lease was cheaper than the market value.

Russell Kruzelock, the CEO and executive director of the Tech Park, said he would not comment on the matter, “pending legal review.”

The first two proposed leases, which were three- and five-year leases, were given to BridgeValley’s former president, Beverly Jo Harris, before she retired in July of last year. She did not agree to sign either lease before she retired, Bellinger said.

At the end of September 2016, Kruzelock sent Bellinger a proposed 25-year lease agreement for buildings 2000 and 704. He proposed charging about $676,760, or $7.95 per square foot, for the first building and about $119,470, or $7.50 per square foot, for the second. At that cost, the school would not have to pay any utilities or for maintenance of the building.

Each year under that 25-year proposal, the cost per square foot would rise 3 percent.

WV Commercial Real Estate associate broker Howard Swint conducts annual surveys of Class A property in Charleston. These are properties which are generally modern, high-rise office buildings. In his most recent survey of Class A properties in downtown Charleston, he found the average cost per square foot was about $20.

“Building 2000 is arguably superior to two of the five Class A towers in downtown Charleston because of the building’s modern fire and safety systems, plus there’s no asbestos,” said Swint, who also is listed as a communications manager for the Tech Park.

By the end of the 25-year proposed lease, even after a 3 percent increase each year, the cost per square foot of the Tech Park’s property would still be less expensive than the average cost per square foot of space in downtown Class A properties is now.

Bellinger said she doesn’t agree that the cost of the proposed 25-year lease was below the average cost of the market.

BridgeValley’s governing board isn’t scheduled to meet again until June 9.

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