CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Jackson County Senator Mitch Carmichael (R-4) made a plea to the West Virginia Board of Education Wednesday. He asked them to give supporters of Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Jackson County more time to come up with funding to keep the facility open.
“Give us a chance! Give us an opportunity of making this work,” said Carmichael
The state Department of Education owns the 228-acre conference center near Ripley.
The land was given to the Department in 1950 as a place for “developing competent leadership, developing character and training for useful citizenship, fostering patriotism and providing and encouraging the development of organized recreational activities for Future Farmers of America and Future Homemakers of America,” according to the deed.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has asked the Department of Education to come up with two budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. One will be same as this year. The other requires more than $8 million in cuts. Board members say they can’t take money from the classroom and Cedar Lakes is a logical place to slash costs.
That could close the gates to the center which welcomes more than a half million visitors each year and cost more than 50 employees their jobs.
“The facility costs about $3 million a year to operate and generates approximately $2 million in revenue,” according to Carmichael.
He said he understands the Department of Education may not have the $1 million to bridge the gap. But, he said, there are people and organizations that do.
“There are opportunities for the city of Ripley, the county of Jackson, the local boards of education and other entities to get involved in this and eliminate that structural deficit that you are facing,” said Carmichael.
He stressed there are even philanthropic groups who want to give money to Cedar Lakes, but not if the Department of Education plans to close it.
Carmichael asked the board for some time to get a plan together, get people on board and find the money to either help the department fund Cedar Lakes or find an agency or group to take it off their hands and their financial books.
“Please give some consideration to continue funding this for a period of time. Allow us the flexibility, give us the responsibility of making this a net benefit to the people of West Virginia,” he explained.
Hundreds turned out last week at a rally at the conference center to show their support for Cedar Lakes. It plays host to the annual Mountain State Art and Craft Fair, nearly two dozen summer band camps, Ripley’s Winterfest as well visitors to the year-round lodge and conference center.
Board members said they are considering their options.