MONTGOMERY — BridgeValley Community and Technical College is still considering moving at least part of its South Charleston campus to Charleston.
Now, its spokespeople say it’s looking at the former Stone & Thomas building in downtown Charleston. It had been focusing on the old Staats Hospital, on the city’s West Side.
The college’s Board of Governors went into closed session Friday, citing an open-meetings law exemption that West Virginia legislators have allowed state agencies to use to consider the purchase, sale or lease of property.
The open-meetings law says this exemption can be used if publicizing the information might harm “the financial or other interest of the state or any political subdivision.”
The board stayed behind closed doors for about two hours.
Afterward, its members immediately voted, without further discussion, to allow college President Eunice Bellinger to sign a document giving the board, if it wants to move forward in the future, the exclusive right to buy the Stone & Thomas building.
The vote was a voice vote with no nays heard.
The Stone & Thomas building is located on the corner of Lee and Dickinson streets, across from the U.S. Post Office. It’s been the subject of redevelopment talks for years.
Pinnacle Center LLC owns the building.
Stone & Thomas, a West Virginia-headquartered department store chain, left the building in 1997 to become part of the Charleston Town Center mall. Elder-Beerman bought the company, and then left the mall location in 2000.
Bellinger, who deferred comment to spokespeople Friday, said in September that the Staats building was “probably not No. 1” anymore among possible sites to relocate most of the South Charleston campus.
BridgeValley’s board had voted in May 2018 to move to the Staats building, but that move was subject to “feasibility studies” and further board approval of costs.
These discussions of moving out of South Charleston have come since the college fought with its current landlord there, the West Virginia Regional Technology Park.
In 2017, the school agreed to pay nearly $1.7 million to the Tech Park after the Tech Park alleged the school hadn’t paid millions of dollars in rent for more than two years, and threatened to evict the school.
Michelle Bissell, a college spokeswoman, described Friday’s vote as giving the OK for the college to do “due diligence” in exploring possibly buying part or all of the Stone & Thomas building and relocating there. She said financial feasibility is part of the analysis.
Jennifer Aries, another college spokeswoman, said the building previously wasn’t available.
“So now, it’s like, OK, you know what, we have to continue due diligence,” Aries said. “And so, if this other property has become available, then we need to go back and do the same exact process that we did with the Staats building.”
The college’s other campus is in Montgomery.
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said the city is “thrilled” with the college’s decision.
“This is tremendous news for our retailers, banks and other stores in our downtown area,” Goodwin said. “More importantly, the 135,000 square-foot building will provide plenty of space for the college to offer new programs, expand training services and allow for future enrollment growth.
“The city of Charleston is thrilled to help make this plan a reality and to be a partner in the college’s long-term mission to expand and serve this city and region.”