Demolitions beginning to clear way for McDowell teacher housing

Demolition will begin soon on Welch’s Best Furniture and Katzen buildings to make way for low-cost apartments for teachers, according to a news release Monday from the Reconnecting McDowell education and community and economic revitalization project.

The release said there will be a “ceremonial demolition” 2 p.m. Thursday in downtown Welch, with the full-scale demolition occurring in the following days.

Attending the ceremony will be Welch Mayor Reba Honaker, McDowell County Commission President Harold McBride and Reconnecting McDowell Chairwoman Gayle Manchin, who is also West Virginia’s former first lady and the former president of the state Board of Education.

Reconnecting McDowell’s board of directors voted in August 2014 to raze the structures in order to build the new Renaissance Village housing complex. A news release sent out that month said construction was expected to be completed about two years from then, but construction has yet to begin.

In March 2016, Reconnecting McDowell leaders announced that workers had begun removing asbestos and pigeon droppings from the buildings.

Janet Bass — a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers union, which helped start Reconnecting McDowell — said then that plans for the Renaissance Village building were still the same.

“Environmental abatement of the site is almost complete and financing is nearly secured for construction of the 30-unit Renaissance Village,” Monday’s release stated. “Renaissance Village will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom rental apartments, a common area for residents, and street-level retail establishments, such as a coffee shop.”

The building, which the release said will be the first multi-story construction in Welch in a half century, is meant to foster economic development and help McDowell overcome its teacher vacancy issues by attracting and retaining more educators.

In March, AFT national President Randi Weingarten noted challenges in addressing environmental issues, including flood plain issues, and in raising enough private funding to ensure the apartment rental rates are low enough for occupants to afford. Manchin also said agencies wanted to give due diligence on issues like why Reconnecting McDowell wanted to destroy rather than renovate the structures.

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