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junior college

The former West Virginia Junior College building is located at the corner of Virginia and McFarland streets.

The school functioned in a nondescript way, funneling business-type aspirants into the world of bookkeeping and such.

Next door, the long-defunct Center Grill on McFarland Street served its students faithfully, as it did those working across the street at both The Charleston Gazette and Daily Mail.

West Virginia Junior College and its immediate predecessor, West Virginia Career College, no doubt supplied the Kanawha Valley and surrounding areas with capable workers from its sizable footprint at the corner of McFarland and Virginia streets. Now empty, it is another casualty of a deteriorating city economy and population loss.

The school announced its departure from downtown in August of last year, to set up shop at the former Everest Institute in Cross Lanes.

Its former home also remains planted, a significant piece of corner land owned by The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. In 2017, according to a 2020 Gazette-Mail article, an anonymous donor bought the building from the college for $950,000 and gave it the diocese. The college had been paying rent to the diocese before leaving.

The diocese has signs in the school windows saying the building is for lease. John Blake, who manages property for both Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral and Sacred Heart Grade School, said no one has yet to express any interest.

“No, not so far, not at this point,” Blake said. “We haven’t tried to market it to anybody specific. With all the buildings currently for sale or lease, it’s going to make it very difficult. You have to find somebody very specific, looking for the size of the building you have.”

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Blake said Sacred Heart owns 10 properties downtown, including the junior college. One is a home for nuns receiving religious education; another, The Cordis Center, serves as the Co-Cathedral office. Another is a Family Life Center and another a center for charities.

“My only interest is in keeping all our buildings running,” Blake said. “We need manufacturing in this city. We can’t just rely on people visiting Charleston. If there were jobs in Charleston, people would move here. There’s just nothing driving the market right now.”

Blake said the building is three floors and 22,000 square feet and, of course, set up for classroom teaching.

Sacred Heart owns the parking lot next to it, open to the public and serving some Charleston Catholic High School students. The school is just up the street, at the corner of Virginia Street and Leon Sullivan Way. Sacred Heart owns four parking lots in all, Blake said.

According to last year’s Gazette-Mail article, the college had occupied the corner since before 1970 and was founded as Capital City Commercial College in 1892. It inhabited part of The Oddfellows Building at Capitol and Lee streets for decades.

Mike Callen, whose family owns the for-profit institution, said the school left Charleston for several reasons but crime, or the perception of it, topped the list. In the 2020 story, he said a student had to walk around someone injecting drugs in a stairwell.

“Reluctantly, we have to make a move,” Callen said.

Greg Stone covers business. He can be reached at 304-348-5124 or gstone

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