BridgeValley Community and Technical College officials are seeking to unload five buildings in Montgomery, a move that would slash the school’s footprint there by two-thirds.
“We pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in utilities for those buildings and the programming that we have in Montgomery fits well into a smaller footprint,” said interim school President Casey Sacks.
Options include transferring the structures to private entities or other state agencies or selling the properties, Sacks said. School Board of Governors Chairwoman Ashley Deem mentioned the possibility of demolishing Westmoreland Hall, a former classroom building.
The other former West Virginia University Institute of Technology structures are former engineering classroom building Pathfinder Hall, former dormitory Ratliff Hall, a house where ousted school President Eunice Bellinger resided and The GRID, an artisans hub.
WVU “has no plans to resume ownership,” WVU spokeswoman April Kaull wrote in an email.
WVU Tech moved its campus to Beckley in 2017. BridgeValley began taking over the buildings in 2018.
“West Virginia University continues to work with local, county and state leaders to support economic development efforts in Montgomery, including regarding properties that were formerly part of the WVU Tech campus,” Kaull wrote.
Montgomery Mayor Greg Ingram said he has plans for a couple buildings.
Space occupied by BridgeValley in Montgomery would decrease from 360,000 to 127,000 square feet, according to school Vice President of Operations Jason Stark. No school programming in Montgomery would be cut, Sacks said.
“I don’t know why they took them in the first place,” Ingram said of BridgeValley and the former WVU Tech buildings, “but that’s none of my business.”
Deem said Bellinger thought the college “was a real estate development company and it’s not, and so now we’re trying to take some action to mitigate the damage that was done for the college and for the City of Montgomery.”
Bellinger didn’t return requests for comment Friday.
Deem said board members “all kind of came to the conclusion it’s not just that it’s not good for the college, but it’s also not good for Montgomery to have a bunch of vacant buildings sitting there.”
Bellinger’s administration touted The GRID, formerly the engineering lab building, as a place where artists and others could rent space and equipment.
“Children have Disneyland. Football fans have the Super Bowl. Artists and Makers in West Virginia have The GRID,” a December 2020 news release said.
“The space, not unlike the incredible hand-made items that are produced there, is the work of the wild, creative imaginations of the faculty, staff and administration,” the release said.
Sacks said the college has returned and been reimbursed for all GRID equipment worth more than $5,000, save for a quilting machine.
“It’s not very nice,” Sacks said of The GRID. “I mean, Davis Hall is a much nicer space, so when I think about where I want students and where I wanna focus our energy, it feels better to put students in the spaces that we have that are the nicest.”
Bellinger’s proposed facilities master plan included an early college program at Pathfinder Hall, where high schoolers would have worked toward associate’s degrees. The state Community and Technical College System’s board never approved the facilities master plan.
Agency staff raised concerns about renovation costs, the extent of BridgeValley’s footprint in Montgomery and a now-abandoned plan to relocate much of the school’s South Charleston campus to Charleston.
The board fired Bellinger in June. Half the members at that time had been appointed after the college took on the WVU Tech buildings. The move came just three days after West Virginia’s top higher education oversight administrator wrote to Deem, saying Bellinger’s home in Montgomery hadn’t been approved as a presidential benefit by the Community and Technical College System board. Neither the house nor Ratliff Hall was mentioned in Bellinger’s master plan.
Over the past five years, Montgomery has lost WVU Tech and Valley High School. The city saw a YMCA open in a former WVU Tech building, then close after just a few years.
Ingram said an announcement is expected about the former YMCA site. He said he’s trying to “rebuild” following WVU Tech’s departure.
“This place is booming,” Ingram said.
Mountaineer Challenge Academy South announced the start of its inaugural class in Montgomery a year ago. The school bills itself as providing education for at-risk 16-18-year-olds in a quasi-military residential program.