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WVU Tech no ‘magic bullet’ for Beckley development


The State Journal

BEKCLEY, W.Va. — Optimism can be a good thing, except when it is too much of a good thing.

Since the announcement WVU Tech would relocate from Montgomery to Beckley, those hit hard by an economy hit even harder yearned for a quick, sustainable solution. Rumors of real estate booms, entrepreneurial expansions and a boon of new job openings permeated the air. “Welcome WVU Tech” signs popped up like springtime dandelions in hibernating yards and hazy storefronts across the city. But will 1,500 students and faculty meet the coalfields’ mountainous expectations?

WVU Tech President Carolyn Long has said the campus move to Beckley won’t immediately turn the area’s economy around, but the school wants to be a good partner with the community and called the relocation a process rather than an event.
(WVU Tech photo)

The full impact of WVU Tech cannot be realized in quantity until this July or in quality until a protracted length of time. Even then, it is the beginning of the beginning. Residents should not need to set alarm clocks earlier to beat an onslaught of commuters. Businesses may benefit from a bump in population, but are not expected to sustain themselves on academe alone. Rather than being the sole solution to an economic challenge, WVU Tech President Carolyn Long views the school’s integration into the community as one piece in the prospect for a better southern West Virginia.

“We want to be good partners with the city, the community and southern West Virginia, but we are not the magic bullet. This is a process, not an event,” Long said. “Everything we want to do and want to see happen will not happen the minute we bring in 1,500 kids. We are not going to turn the economy around immediately.”

Early 2016 reports of student arrivals caused much movement-spotting on Kanawha Street in downtown Beckley. Most of the movement actually came from workers renovating and expanding the school’s campus in preparation for the full transition of faculty, staff and student body scheduled for July and August of this year.

“The only students on campus (in Beckley) now are freshmen and transfers,” Long said. Students ranging from freshmen to seniors and transfers are all still in Montgomery, as well. The total enrollment for the school, between the soon-to-close Montgomery campus and the new Beckley campus, is more than 1,300 students.

Long added that the transition has proven to be smooth so far, with few unexpected surprises and none that could not be overcome.

“Nothing detrimental has happened, really nothing we didn’t expect,” she said. From this point forward, Long added, all open houses and registration events are scheduled to take place in Beckley, heralding the full transition.

From among the students arriving, 400 can be accommodated by current on-campus housing. “We anticipate those dorms being full,” Long said.

Filling what exists before the school explores alternative and off-campus housing is priority, but Long and staff are asking questions about what future housing should look like under the university housing umbrella.

“We have looked at a few options, and we know as we grow we will need more housing,” she said. “Nothing is set in stone, and we have not made any agreements with anyone at this point,” she added, saying the school’s main concern, whether regarding on-campus or off-campus housing, is having safe facilities and enough to meet student demand.

Although some faculty and staff will be moving to Beckley, not all will adopt the 25801 zip code. “Some, especially those living in Charleston, will still commute,” said Long.

Although on-campus housing is still being filled, according to some local housing providers, independent inquiries for housing have exceeded expectations.

“I can absolutely attribute WVU Tech’s presence to the increase in calls we’ve had about property,” said Cranberry Woods Property Manager Rene Moore.

Cranberry Woods Townhomes, a 175-unit residential community on the outskirts of Beckley, is offering a 5 percent rental discount to WVU Tech students and staff.

“We are in a nice neighborhood where parents can have peace of mind sending their kids here,” Moore said. “So many people have gone to our website and are willing to rent sight-unseen, I would encourage people to apply and make a deposit now if they want a guaranteed unit available in July or August.”

Others in the industry haven’t witnessed much of a change so far.

“I hear a lot of buzz about commercial property, especially for sale in downtown Beckley, but I personally haven’t seen an increase in residential demand,” said Staci Green-Gumba, real estate agent with Century 21 First Choice.

To borrow from springtime idioms, Green-Gumba, isn’t putting all her eggs in one basket, nor is she counting her chickens before they hatch. To prepare for those who may be coming but haven’t yet committed to looking at properties, Green-Gumba sent customized postcards describing her services to the school. She said she and other area real estate agents have met and strategized about students and staff who may be seeking residence, but the payoff in property commitments seems further down the road.

“I do hope there will be revitalization to the area from the school,” said Gumba.

Growth and change are certainties. How much, how quickly and what kinds remain variables and leave many with questions about what is to come, but the university wants to find the answers alongside community members.

“This summer and at the fall Open House, we welcome community to come and see the buildings,” Long said. “Also, at a community meeting in the summer for our campus neighbors, we will discuss what the community expects of us and how we would like them to help us.”

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