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Former WVU Tech campus set aside for good cause


The Register-Herald

MONTGOMERY, W.Va.  — An ongoing stream of behind-the-scenes activity is underway as KVC Health Systems prepares for its new foster care venture where WVU Tech once stood.

Local residents had the opportunity Monday evening to learn of the progress being made in transforming the former WVU Tech campus into a new entity comprised of KVC Health Systems and the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA. Representatives of those two organizations, along with BridgeValley Community & Technical College and the towns of Montgomery and Smithers were on hand to give updates as well as answer questions about the future of the campus. Panel members taking questions were, from left, Dr. Eunice Bellinger, president of BridgeValley; Tommy Bailey, director of strategic initiatives for KVC Health Systems; Mayor Greg Ingram of Montgomery; Mayor Tom Skaggs of Smithers; and Steve Hall, branch director of the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA.
(Register-Herald photo by Steve Keenan)

Representatives of KVC Health Systems, BridgeValley Community and Technical College, the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA and the towns of Montgomery and Smithers held a community meeting Monday at the KVC Workforce Center of Excellence (former Vining Library).

Tommy Bailey, director of strategic initiatives for KVC Health Systems, said the goal is to have 200 young people on the former Tech campus in the first two years, then ultimately boost that to 500. In addition to performing their KVC programs and attending classes associated with BridgeValley CTC, the students will all work at some type of job, either on campus or in the community, he said.

The goal is to start having students in Montgomery in 2018, hopefully by January, Bailey said.

KVC is creating the nation’s first college campus designed to support youth transitioning from foster care through education, life skills, community involvement and behavioral health.

The campus will not be a closed campus, Bailey said, and he and Montgomery Mayor Greg Ingram said discussions are being held on the planned security detail for KVC. The subject of a curfew for the students was broached during the evening, but Bailey said nothing has been decided. “We’re working on the programming and structure for the students over the next few months and will have (that) in place before the students arrive.”

A name for the new campus hasn’t been decided.

According to Bailey, about 150 KVC Health Systems WV employees will visit the Montgomery campus for the first time this Thursday, taking part in a leadership meeting.

Projections call for 90 total employees in Montgomery based on the initial complement of approximately 200 students, according to Bailey. The employee base would expand as needed.

“We’re not educators,” Bailey said. “We’re not going to try to be educators.”

That’s where BridgeValley comes into the equation. Dr. Eunice Bellinger, president of BridgeValley CTC, said BridgeValley is a college “that is committed to the area,” and she said the CTC will welcome “a population that will be integrated into our college.”

If they so desire, those students will have access to the same curriculum as BridgeValley students, and they will have the potential to secure four-year degrees from Marshall University through its presence at BridgeValley.

Bellinger said BridgeValley is currently leasing three former WVU Tech buildings (engineering lab, engineering building and facilities building), which “needed a little bit of work.” The total lease cost for a three-year period is $9, a figure which a BridgeValley employee donated, Bellinger said.

BridgeValley aims to allow local artists to utilize some of the E-lab as space for the burgeoning arts movement in the city. Other projects such as wood-working could be considered. “The point is to find a niche,” said Bellinger, who noted that BridgeValley’s student services department is being moved from Davis Hall to the engineering building.

“Wow, I’m tickled to death they’re here,” Montgomery Mayor Greg Ingram said of KVC and the YMCA.

Ingram briefed the crowd on a variety of ongoing initiatives and/or collaborations involving Montgomery and the surrounding area. Included in that is a joint economic council involving Montgomery and Smithers which will target the hiring of an individual to be a grant writer and planner for the municipalities, someone “who wakes up every morning and looks at Montgomery and Smithers.” Also, work continues on a comprehensive plan for Montgomery.

Ingram said a main aim is to improve the overall perception of Montgomery. A push is on to remove “dilapidated eyesores” throughout the city, he said, adding, “I promise you we’re going to clean up the drugs and clean up the thugs.”

Smithers Mayor Tom Skaggs said the cooperation of all the involved entities is crucial to future success. While hoping to see a population uptick in the Valley in coming years, he said Smithers will “offer all the support we can give.”

Skaggs said Smithers is collaborating with Montgomery whenever possible. “We’re trying to do different things to work together. … We cannot survive on our own.”

“We’ve got to change our philosophy; coal is gone,” he added. “We’ve got to turn the Valley into something else.” One of the possibilities he mentioned was development of a large piece of property in town as a water park or something else.

Steve Hall, branch director of the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA — which will administer KVC’s athletic programs and intramurals — told those in attendance Monday that the YMCA has been slowly introducing itself to the community.

For example, a “soft opening” occurred during last week’s Montgomery Fall Festival activities in which 160 youngsters participated in a three-hour swimming pool party in the Neal D. Baisi Athletic Center. Pool hours are being held this week, he said, and the weight room will open shortly.

 “This is not your typical YMCA,” Hall said. “We’ll be the Civic Center of the Upper Kanawha Valley.”

In the future, activities such as senior aerobics and water aerobics will be available to the community, as will child care, he noted. Also, the YMCA aims to stage a week-long summer camp for local youths at the Montgomery Marina

Work continues to prepare the Baisi Center for KVC and the community. “There were a few little tweaks we had to make to the Baisi Center after the other people left,” Hall said.

Officials noted that any Montgomery or Smithers resident who is current on all fees owed to their city and who applies to the YMCA will be granted a free YMCA membership for the first year.

After remarks, the panelists fielded a variety of questions from those in attendance. They ranged from use of Martin Field, Conley Hall and the former Tech’s president house, to how the local rental situation has been affected by the departure of Tech, to whether KVC students will have to meet certain academic guidelines before they are enrolled.

Bailey said there are no concrete plans for Martin Field, although he mentioned possible projects such as use of the site as an agricultural center. “We’re just exploring additional opportunities,” he said.

The president’s home — located adjacent to Montgomery General Hospital — could possibly be utilized for KVC employees or possibly for physicians visiting MGH, said Bailey.

Incoming students won’t have to meet certain academic requirements, Bailey said. They must possess “an express desire to go to college.” There will be time, he said, to polish the students’ academic and work skills.

Dr. John David, director of Southern Appalachian Labor School and a former chair of the department of social sciences and public administration at Tech, told those assembled that SALS hopes to use the Westmoreland building to re-establish a program geared toward constructing energy-efficient modular homes.

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