WELCH, W.Va. — The effort to improve the school system and economy of McDowell County took a significant step forward Wednesday with a vote to build a new apartment complex in downtown Welch.
The Reconnecting McDowell board voted unanimously to demolish the Best Furniture and Katzen buildings and build what’s being called “Renaissance Village” where it’s hoped teachers and other professionals will live.
“This construction opens up opportunities for professionals throughout McDowell County to actually be able to reside where they work,” board chair and state Board of Education President Gayle Manchin told MetroNews after the vote.
The $5.5 million complex will have 28-units, a coffee shop and commons area. The board decided against rehabbing the existing structures. Manchin said all they would have been able to save would be the four walls. She said a new building sends a message.
“This is about a new era of opportunity and success and we felt that a new building would instill that kind of hope and inspiration into people that live here in McDowell County,” Manchin said.
The Reconnecting McDowell is trying to recruit teachers and get them to stay. There are currently 40 teaching vacancies. Manchin said the housing issue stretches into other areas. She said professionals at the hospital in Welch, the manager at Walmart and pharmacists live in other locations and drive in to the area.
“This is about economic development. This is about education and about attracting people that can actually live here so you can start to sustain the economy and sustain the population,” she said.
Reconnecting McDowell began in 2011 and is spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers. The program includes dozens of other supporters. The effort has already improved technology for schools and created new opportunities for students in McDowell County.
Manchin said she hopes the new housing complex is ready for use by Aug. 2016. She said it would be financed by a variety of sources including federal funds.