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. MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Nicholas Valdez and four of his roommates sat surprised and upset on the stairs of their Grant Avenue apartment."Wait, are you serious?" Valdez said.
His roommate, Jared Carr, immediately called his mother on his cellphone."Yeah, Mom? We're getting kicked out of our house ... yeah ... the school bought the property. All of Grant Street, apparently."Valdez and Carr are West Virginia University students living in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Morgantown. Their house, along with dozens of rental homes along Grant Avenue, Jones Avenue, Quay Street, Third Street, Houston Avenue, Overhill Street, Highland Avenue and Wellen Avenue, was sold to the university for $14.6 million this week.WVU and Paradigm Development Group LLC announced Friday they would build a $70 million residential and retail complex projected to be completed by the fall of 2014.WVU officials said later Friday that no one would be forced to move, and said they would instead work with students and other tenants to try to get them to leave. But many students in Sunnyside on Friday afternoon believed the university was kicking them out."I already paid my rent -- it's already paid. So now I've got to move out, try to get my money back from this landlord who is awful to everyone, and pay that rent to another place," Valdez said. "I'm going to move into a house that costs $1,500 a month and just tell them, 'Yeah, sorry.'"That house is much farther away from campus, replied another roommate, sophomore Mike Twiggs. "Is there any way you can appeal it?"Many students first learned of the plan through an email sent by WVU officials at 11:08 a.m. Friday.According to the email, the complex, University Place, will "help fulfill the University's strategic housing master plan which addresses the need for additional beds for international, professional and veteran students, plus the growth it has experienced the past few years in the freshmen and sophomore classes."The final paragraph of the release included what some students took as an ultimatum: "University officials will immediately begin contacting students and other tenants to offer alternative housing options and assistance with moving. Demolition is expected to begin in late December or early January, with expected completion in fall of 2014."Sophomores Kristen Mack and Caitlynn Mundell live in an apartment across from the Summit Hall residence hall. Mack said she read about the impending demolition of her house in her email that morning.
"It's this whole big article ranting and raving about how everything is going to be so nice and up-to-date, it's going to make the university really nice, and then, the last paragraph says, 'demolition begins in December. For assistance, housing and moving, please call this number,'" Mack said. "And that's how I found out about it."Mundell said the university's offer to compensate students by providing moving services and paying any difference in rent is little comfort for her."I'd better be getting the parking spot I've already paid for, my washer and dryer, my own room, and my bathroom," she said. "It's probably a smart decision for the school, but the way they're going about it is completely irresponsible."The acquisition of Sunnyside and the planned residential complex are part of WVU's "2020 Strategic Plan for the Future." According to John Martys, executive director of the Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority, about 72 percent of West Virginians are homeowners; only 40 percent of Morgantown residents own their own home -- the majority of housing in the city are rental properties.Martys said he hopes the plans for the Sunnyside neighborhood will help to redirect students and create a better balance between the student and resident population."We hope, in the next five or six years, to see a change in the complexion of Sunnyside, and hopefully that will draw the attention of students to move into those units and maybe find it less desirable to live in established neighborhoods," Martys said.
Nick Dorsey, a senior communications student, is more worried about the present."I'm expected to graduate in May, and I'm kind of in panic mode now," he said. "I'm trying to get my grades up -- they're good now -- but trying to find somewhere to live, just for one more semester, I don't feel it's really right to do that to the students."I think it's a good idea for the future, and I think it'll be beneficial, but it kind of stinks right now, just the way they're going about it. I think they should've waited until at least the summer to do it -- let everyone get through their leases for the rest of the year and then go about it, not be in such a hurry to get it done this soon, you know?"Nuzum is a journalism student at West Virginia University.