CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Work could start in the New Year on a planned teacher village in McDowell County. On Tuesday, Reconnecting McDowell’s board of directors approved the purchase of property in downtown Welch for future teacher housing.
“This is a huge milestone,” says Gayle Manchin, state Board of Education president and Reconnecting McDowell board chair.
The former Best Furniture and Katzen buildings sit on the Welch property. In the coming weeks, a full review will be conducted to determine whether to renovate the existing buildings or build an entirely new building.
Plans called for 30 apartment-style units to be built there which would house teachers and include a number of amenities like a coffee shop that would be open to the public.
If financing is secured in the months ahead, a groundbreaking ceremony could be held in the spring.
“Reconnecting McDowell made new housing a key piece of its plan to revitalize the county,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement. “A teacher village will attract and retain teachers, provide good jobs and encourage more economic development.”
Reconnecting McDowell first launched in 2011. The goal of the effort is to improve McDowell County’s schools by providing more social and health care services and encouraging economic growth. The effort now has 125 partners.
Those working with Reconnecting McDowell celebrated a year of victories during Tuesday’s meeting in Charleston. “In addition to a celebration, it’s also what are our next steps and where do we go from here,” stressed Manchin.
She said years one and two of the program focused on setting up the basics.
“We’ve had great work in our elementary with our literacy programs. Our high schools are beginning the build into our health and physical activity components. We’re also building career and college pathways,” explained Manchin.
She said the rest of the country is starting to take notice. “McDowell County is not just in West Virginia. There are McDowell Counties all over this country,” says Manchin. “I think other state are beginning to take notice that what we’re doing here is working.”