Community backs plan to repurpose WVU Tech in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, W.Va. — Montgomery Mayor Greg Ingram says having Kansas-based KVC Health Systems transform part of the WVU Tech campus into a specialized college for children in foster care is great for his town.

“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for these kids to get life skills and for the people in the community to wrap their arms around kids that need a loving place to live,” Ingram told reporters following a public meeting Wednesday at the Montgomery campus.

The meeting was hosted by KVC Health Systems — a non-profit group that wants to transform a significant part of the Tech campus into a college for foster children.

KVC Health Systems’ Tommy Bailey says the program will be an “economic engine” for the community.

The program will start out with about 200 students and 50 staff, according to KVC representative Tommy Bailey.

The students will live in the area and work year round, Bailey said. KVC plans to seek funding to pay for every students’ tuition, living expenses and for them to have a job in the community.

“These students will be required and they will be paid to work in the communities. It’s not just Montgomery or Smithers, Gauley Bridge or Pratt. This is going to be a regional school,” Ingram explained.

Smithers Mayor Thomas Skaggs said he’s confident students will come to work in his town during their time in college.

“We’re probably going to get some help. Maybe their students can come over and work a little while at City Hall or do some special project for us to keep them occupied and give them a job to do,” Skaggs said.

The institution will provide students with the opportunity to learn new skills during their transition to adulthood. Bailey told the crowd these children are “victims of trauma,” so they’ll be providing wrap around services to meet the needs of all children attending the school.

About 5,000 children are in foster care in West Virginia, Bailey said.

“There’s no other model like this anywhere in the country,” Ingram said. “This may be a model that they build other colleges in other areas, once we prove this a success and I think we will.”

Tech is in the process of moving its operations from Montgomery to Beckley this year. Skaggs said that news “wasn’t received well at first,” but believes the new college will help fill the void.

“Because of the decline in the coal market and people leaving the valley so quickly, we hope that it will boost our economy here,” Skaggs said.

Ingram agreed.

“We’ve had a year of depression in the upper Kanawha Valley,” he said. “I think that all comes to an end today.”

KVC Health Systems is partnering with BridgeValley Community and Technical College, along with the YMCA to offer specialized programs for students. Eunice Bellinger, president of BridgeValley, supports the plan.

“I think that it was a challenge to find an entity to come in and take over the buildings. We’re very happy to have three additional buildings for us. It gives us a chance to do a partnership and whatever we can do to help the economic development of the town is so important to us,” Bellinger said.

In the early stages, KVC will pay students’ tuition through BridgeValley because KVC does not have accreditation yet.

KVC was originally interested in buying the Sugar Grove naval base in Pendleton County, but the property was sold last December.

College employees will be hired once KVC finalizes the agreement with WVU. Some programs KVC wants to bring to Montgomery include health care, technology, coding, construction, sciences and more.

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