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Old Taft Elementary building could be torn down; convenience store planned

Lawrence Pierce
O.V. Smith & Sons of Big Chimney hopes to build a convenience store and maybe a gas station on the site of the old Taft Elementary School and nearby properties along Bigley Avenue. The company bought the school a dozen years ago.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A large-scale convenience store and gas station could soon rise on a former school site on Bigley Avenue.First, though, local developers need to get the city to rezone some adjacent property and close a block of Alethia Street.If that goes through -- the Municipal Planning Commission will take up the requests on Wednesday<co Sept. 5> --  developers will tear down the old Taft Elementary School, the former Wesley United Methodist Church and four nearby homes."It would be a convenience store, maybe a service station and a convenience store," said Jim Smith, president of O.V. Smith & Sons of Big Chimney. "It would be a revenue producer for the city."Smith paid $180,000 to buy the Taft school in January 2001, a half year after it closed, the Gazette reported at the time. It was among a half-dozen or so grade schools the school board closed that year.The handsome two-story brick building, its first-floor windows boarded up, fronts on both O'Dell and Bigley avenues. Motorists climbing the ramp to Interstate 77 north from O'Dell pass the school's main entrance. The property fills the eastern half of the block between Westmoreland Drive and Alethia Street."We've owned that Taft building for several years and needed to do something," Smith said. "Our company has been in the real estate business, building shopping centers, and haven't had an opportunity to do something with the Taft building."Well known for its commercial development along the Elk River from Big Chimney to Clendenin, O.V. Smith & Sons also owns a shopping center at the Buckhannon exit of Interstate 79 along with properties in Georgia and Florida, he said.Meanwhile, just across Alethia Street, owners of the now-closed Methodist church have been trying to sell their property."The boys at the church approached me," Smith said. "They own the church and a couple of homes, jumbled together there. I've got an offer to buy it if we could get it rezoned and the street closed. I could demo it and put some kind of development in there."
By itself, the school site is too small for redevelopment by today's standards, he said. But if you close the street and add the property on the other side, "It would be a couple of acres. It would be big enough to do something with."Smith has two requests before the Planning Commission Wednesday -- the rezoning of the church properties and the street closing.He has asked that the church properties -- five adjacent parcels -- to be rezoned from R-4 (family residential) to C-8 (village commercial) to match the zoning for the school property.Under a street closing, the developer has to buy the right-of-way from the city. An appraisal by Rolston & Co. says the property -- 6,742 square feet -- is worth $20,000.That block of Alethia Street is rarely used, Smith said. "We did a survey. It was only 29 cars a day and some of them were lost, trying to find the Interstate."
The city's planning office has received several calls since notices of the commission hearing went out, Planning Director Dan Vriendt said. While a few people have concerns, most don't seem to care, he said.Smith has apparently talked to chain stores about the site. He may even have some sort of deal in mind. If so, he's not saying. Sheetz is known to be seeking sites in the greater Charleston area."Right now, I don't have a contract," he said."It could be some kind of franchise. I don't know," Smith said. "I think it's an attractive location there."Reach Jim Balow at or 304-348-5102.
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