MONTGOMERY, W.Va. — The city of Montgomery isn’t ready to give up WVU Tech without a fight.
The city council unanimously voted Tuesday night to reject an agreement not to take legal action against WVU for its planned move of the Tech campus out of the city to Beckley.
Similar agreements had been made by both the Fayette and Kanawha County Commissions, as well as the adjacent town of Smithers in the controversial move. Two eastern Kanawha County residents have filed a lawsuit against WVU trying to keep Tech in Montgomery.
“It just didn’t feel like there was enough in the agreement to satisfy all that we’re going to end up losing if Tech leaves,” said Mayor Jim Higgins.
Kanawha County Commissoner Dave Hardy said the way council voted wasn’t a surprise to him given how ingrained WVU Tech is in the community of Montgomery and the Upper Kanawha Valley.
“I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised,” Hardy said. “The city of Montgomery has a really decision to make there. It’s a very bitter pill to swallow to lose a fine college like that that’s been there a long time.
Tech first became a four-year college in 1921, then as New River State College, and was renamed the West Virginia Institute of Technology in 1941.
The school was once among the top engineering programs in the nation, but has since fallen into disrepair; the campus became a division of WVU in July 2007.
“I couldn’t say,” said Higgins when asked if Montgomery would pursue legal action against WVU. “I couldn’t say because council made it pretty plain they didn’t want to get involved in a lawsuit at the time. If they change their mind, which they have the right to do, maybe they’ll change their mind and do something else.”
Hardy said that the Kanawha County Commission decided that pursuing any such legal action was a fruitless endeavor.
“I never predict what courts will do, but I know that when our legal council looked at it, and we looked at it as a commission, we felt a legal battle was a very big long-shot,” Hardy said. “Ultimately, we felt it was in the best interest of Montgomery and the Upper Kanawha Valley to get the agreement with WVU, which continues for ten years.”
The agreement made by the Kanawha and Fayette commissions agrees to pursue no legal action against WVU, as long as WVU agrees on its end to maintain the campus for a decade.
Higgins said that if WVU Tech does wind up leaving, he hopes WVU wouldn’t turn its back on the Tech campus.
“Our hope is that if Tech does leave, that they will find someone to take those buildings or find some other entity to put in those buildings before they leave,” he said.
Residents of Montgomery, eastern Kanawha County and Fayette County have strongly opposed the move from the time it was first announced, fearing what the absence of Tech would do to an economy already struggling due in large part to the downturn of the coal industry.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom is presiding over the pending lawsuit filed by two residents. Last month, Bloom denied an emergency injunction to block the move.
A hearing in the lawsuit, which claims WVU has no legal right to move the Tech campus, is scheduled for May 12-13.