Former WVU Tech campus could be college for former foster children

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After next week, the people of Montgomery might no longer have to wonder who plans to purchase the West Virginia University Institute of Technology campus.

KVC Health Systems, a private nonprofit company based in Kansas, hopes to turn the campus into a college for children who have aged out of the foster care system.

“KVC has been working on a concept where we see a gap in child welfare, and that is to support foster youth as they grow up,” said Tommy Bailey, a lobbyist at Spilman, Thomas & Battle who has helped KVC Health Systems with negotiations to lease the campus then purchase it. “Since most of them don’t have a support structure like a family, they usually don’t use all those benefits that they can receive through the state when they go to college.”

WVU and KVC Health Systems have reached an agreement in principle, which Bailey said means they have reached a general agreement, but no lease-purchase agreement has been signed yet.

WVU plans to announce more details of the agreement at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning in a public meeting on the first floor of the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering building.

“There have been multiple entities interested in the campus facilities in Montgomery,” WVU said in a statement. “Of these groups, one — KVC Health Systems — has been engaged in discussions with the local community about their interest in the property. We hope to share more details soon, after a final contract is signed. We believe that this agreement will be a positive opportunity for the area, for this organization and for the West Virginia University system.”

KVC would hope to start up a brand new college on the WVU Tech campus. If an agreement is reached soon, Bailey said KVC would hope to attract a group of about 50 students to the college within a year. Once the college is totally operational, KVC hopes about 500 students will attend school there.

Students who attend the college will have additional mentoring programs not offered at traditional colleges and would also have access to behavioral health specialists while going to school. As far as Bailey knows, that has never been done before.

“At this scale, and with this blending of services, even though they already exist in a variety of ways now, bringing them together under one roof is a novel idea in child welfare,” Bailey said.

Bailey said that, because of traumatic experiences some children go through in foster care, going to a traditional college is difficult and many of them aren’t successful and don’t graduate.

“It really makes sense to us from our experience working with this population, to have something separate and something specifically designed for their needs,” Bailey said.

Bailey said KVC has been in talks with BridgeValley Community and Technical College, which operates a two-year public college down the road from WVU Tech, about partnering to start the school.

In addition to a potential college for children leaving the foster care system, the YMCA of Kanawha Valley is in talks to potentially expand to Montgomery. Monty Warner, the local YMCA’s CEO, said his organization has been in talks with KVC to partner and operate some sort of facility on the WVU Tech campus.

“We’re aware that various entities have looked at the Tech campus and considered trying to work arrangements with WVU,” Warner said. “We’re not at liberty to really discuss until somebody does secure property from WVU.”

Reach Jake Jarvis at 304-348-7939, jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, Facebook.com/newsroomjake or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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