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Reconnecting McDowell to build teacher housing

Long-vacant buildings in Welch will be demolished and replaced with new housing for teachers, under a plan approved Wednesday by the Reconnecting McDowell board of directors.

The board voted to raze the Best Furniture and Katzen buildings in order to construct “Renaissance Village,” a 30-unit apartment building to attract and retain teachers at the low-achieving school district.

The district has about 40 vacant teacher positions.

The apartment building, which is expected to be completed by 2016, will house a coffee shop and other community amenities, and also will be open to residents.

How the project will be financed is still undetermined, but the Reconnecting McDowell board voted to apply for a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan for rural rental property, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Renaissance Village is the latest product of Reconnecting McDowell, a comprehensive project spearheaded in 2011 by the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Department of Education that aims to turn around high-risk students through various economic and community development projects.

The project is the state’s first Community School program, with businesses, nonprofits and other agencies signing on to help combat the area’s problems with poverty and prescription drug abuse.

National AFT President Randi Weingarten and state school board president Gayle Manchin traveled Wednesday to Welch to celebrate the board’s decision to move forward with the teacher housing plan.

“Renaissance Village addresses three big problems that have plagued McDowell County: a high teacher vacancy rate; a dearth of available housing; and a lack of economic development,” Weingarten said in a news release. “A beautiful new apartment complex should be a powerful incentive for great teachers to come and stay in McDowell County.”

Construction should begin in a few months, according to the release.

Virginia-based Community Housing Partners Design Studio is designing the apartment building and will use West Virginia union workers.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.

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