By GREG JORDAN
BLUEFIELD DAILY TELEGRAPH
WELCH — A big step was announced Monday in the effort to create housing for teachers and other professionals who want to work in McDowell County.
In an effort to recruit and retain teachers as well as encourage economic development in the county, the Reconnecting McDowell partnership purchased a long-abandoned property Monday in downtown Welch that will become apartment-style housing for teachers and other professionals.
Reconnecting McDowell purchased the former Best Furniture and Katzen buildings and attached parking lots for $92,000, according to a statement from the Reconnecting McDowell organization.
“This is an enormous step forward in Reconnecting McDowell’s goal to attract great teachers to McDowell, to encourage them to stay, and become integral members of the community, and to reinvigorate the economy in McDowell County,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the convening partner of Reconnecting McDowell, said.
The partnership’s board of directors will decide at its next meeting whether to demolish the Best Furniture and Katzen buildings for new construction or to totally renovate the existing buildings. Groundbreaking will follow shortly thereafter. Financing for the construction is being put together now, Reconnecting McDowell officials said.
“Welch hasn’t had any substantial new housing construction in decades. Today’s purchase of the Best Furniture property is the start of what I hope will be an economic revitalization of a historic and important West Virginia community. Reconnecting McDowell brings hope and tangible, sustainable programs that are truly changing lives,” Welch Mayor Reba Honaker said.
McDowell public schools have struggled for years with teacher vacancies, due in large part to a lack of available housing in the county.
“I think it’s an absolutely marvelous idea,” said Mike Callaway, president of the McDowell County Board of Education. “Our options on housing are very, very limited. One of the problems we have down here is that when we hire teachers, there are very few places for them to live; especially young teachers who don’t want to buy a house. They’re looking for something that’s nice to rent or to lease. They would like to stay down here rather than live in Beckley, Bluefield, Princeton or Tazewell.”
Community Housing Partners Design Studio of Christiansburg, Va., will design the Teachers Village, which will include about 30 housing units, areas for residents to collaborate and relax, and community amenities such as a street-level coffee shop.
Community Housing Partners specializes in constructing affordable, green, sustainable housing, Reconnecting McDowell officials said.