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.

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  • Robert

    $5.5 million dollars doesn't buy much these days, I can't imagine it's going to be much to look at especially in a downtown location.

  • Harold

    The story left out the fact that the county schools have been under state intervention control for almost 2 decades now? Correct me if I am wrong.

    • wvu999

      You're wrong
      Way wrong
      They were under state control about 10 years and now they have local control back.

      That's how reconnecting McDowell began because Gayle admitted the county had been under state control for too long with no results

  • Teach

    Thank you AFT for giving this county support and hope. If you look at pictures of this beautiful town in the 1940 - 1950's it was booming and looked like a street in New York City. Now it's sad and not many businesses- just like so many other towns in this state. If this state doesn't work together in saving coal then more towns are going to be in the same shape.

  • Teach

    Aaron if you are interested then go back to school and get your teaching certification. Some teachers have a masters Degree +45 hrs and even some have a Doctorate Degree but that doesn't qualify teachers to be a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. The problem is the pay is too low to attract teachers. You can go to work in a plant outside of this state and make a teacher's salary without all the stress. What other profession has EVERYONE telling them what to do. Everyone seems to think that they're an expert on teaching, because they've been through the system. LOL!!! We have good teachers in the system, just let them do their job. All the state needs are good administrators and less state dept. employees.

    • Aaron

      West Virginia Education Stats

      Avg. Elem. Teacher Salary $43,700
      Avg. Sec. Teacher Salary $43,410
      Teacher Retention (?) 97%
      Average Admin. Salary $63,170
      Vacation Wks/Yr 15

  • Dumb Liberals

    The birth of a new Section-8 slum. Give it a few years and the demise will occur.

    • night after night

      I'm a young, fresh out of college teacher. I now have an apartment in downtown Welch . . . sure can't wait to sit at home tonight and watch Netflix. And tomorrow night. And the night after that . . .

  • Voter

    Here I thought the only employer left in that area was the WV Division of Corrections.

  • Aaron

    I wonder, will the agency subsidize housing loans with reduced rates? If so, why wouldn't a new teacher want to teach in a rural area like McDowell County. You have less violence, lower cost of living for most items and sadly, you are one of the higher income earners in the area. It's a win/win situation. If WV would eliminate the ban on Teach America, it is a route I would seriously consider as part of my retirement.

    • TMW

      I have a new found respect for my state of birth. I did not know that Teach for America was banned. Excellent. As a Maryland teacher in tough urban areas, I have seen them come and go. One even messed up the DC system when she became CEO. They tend to be self serving, need to pad their resumes (teach in poverty) in order to get into a grad program or law school that their initial degree and grades failed to do for them. Much better to hire and mentor college grads and career changers w/o certification and help them get certified. They tend to stay. Excellent move WV

    • wvu999

      Why would Teach for America work better than Transition to Teach or the Teacher in Residence program?
      WV already has the two other programs. Teach for America charges over $10k per teacher they place in the classroom and those people never stay over a year or two.

      • Aaron

        Do those programs require person with a bachelors degree to return to the classroom to get their teaching certificate?

        • Veteran Teacher

          That's all we need in our schools-another "professional" with no formal training as an educator.

          Your degree is a BA Regents, I'll bet. That's the Kardashian of degrees.

        • wvu999

          Transition to Teaching does not

      • mntnman


  • any major dude

    Time to move ahead and leave the past in the past.