MONTGOMERY, W.Va. — The Old Main clock bells will continue to ring out over Montgomery, but soon they will no longer be marking the top of the hour — seven minutes early — for students heading to class at West Virginia University Institute of Technology, also known as WVU Tech.
“It is bittersweet, but an exciting thing,” said Jen Wood Cunningham, director of university relations at WVU Tech and a 2001 graduate, at a time of transition for Tech out of Montgomery which sits in both Kanawha County and Fayette County.
In August, the fall semester begins for all Tech students at the new campus site in Beckley.
“I’m excited,” said Brittan McClain, a Tech sophomore and double major in psychology and biology from Dixie, West Virginia. “I just think it’ll be a completely different atmosphere.”
McClain’s family lives about 20 minutes from Tech’s Montgomery campus, so she’s currently a commuter. After the move to Beckley, she’ll be living on campus.
“I like it here, but I’m really excited to actually be in the city,” McClain told MetroNews.
“Montgomery’s just so small. There’s not a whole lot to do here and I feel like the people in Beckley just really want us to be there. They really want to be involved in Tech.”
Alex Combs, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and Tech basketball player from northern Kentucky, agreed.
Currently, “If we want to do anything, we have to drive all the way to Charleston. In Beckley, there’s stuff right by campus, so it’ll be a lot more convenient,” Combs said.
The last day for Tech classes in Montgomery is this Friday. Finals Week comes next week followed by the last Tech commencement ceremony in Montgomery on Saturday, May 6.
Moving for faculty and staff will begin in earnest soon after that, according to Wood Cunningham. Two moving waves are scheduled: one in mid-May, the other in mid-June.
Per a lease-purchase agreement between West Virginia University and KVC Health Systems, which was approved last week, all Tech buildings must be cleared by June 30.
KVC will be using the Tech buildings in Fayette County for a specialized career college dedicated to young people aging out of foster care.
The lease term is for 25 years, but KVC has the option of buying the property before the end of the lease. If the purchase is finalized ahead of June 30, 2020, the price will be $8.3 million.
— Shauna Johnson (@ShaunaJWV) April 24, 2017
As part of the agreement, Tech’s HiRise Residence Hall is scheduled to demolished before KVC begins occupying the Montgomery facilities on July 1.
WVU is also currently in the process of transferring ownership of the Tech Marina and the David S. Long Alumni Center to Montgomery.
The Kanawha County Tech buildings are not part of the agreement with KVC. The engineering laboratory, engineering building and facilities building may become part of BridgeValley Community and Technical College.
West Virginia University Institute of Technology has a long history in Montgomery.
The school was founded as the Montgomery Preparatory School in 1895. It was renamed the West Virginia Institute of Technology in 1941 and began granting degrees in engineering in 1952. Tech became a regional WVU campus in 1996 and a full division of WVU in 2007.
In 2015, WVU bought the former Mountain State University campus in Beckley, setting up the transition that is now taking place.
Two touchstones on the Tech campus in Montgomery will be making the move to Beckley with students — the bear positioned near the steps to Old Main and the cannon outside Maclin Hall.
In all, 1,300 students are currently enrolled at WVU Tech.
This year, about 200 of them — largely freshmen and transfer students — have already been attending classes in Beckley. All students and faculty members still in Montgomery for the final year have been on tours of the Beckley site.
“It’s going to be a big difference compared to this campus, but I’m excited for seeing all the new buildings and more people are going to be on campus and just better opportunities,” said Kylie Lang, a Tech junior sports management major from Iowa.
She came to Tech to run track and cross country and said she’ll miss Montgomery which is split by train tracks. “I like how it’s a rural area. I like how there’s trails and it’s quiet here. Besides the train, it’s pretty quiet here,” Lang said with a laugh.
Wood Cunningham said applications from both Fayette County and Raleigh County have increased with the location change.
McClain, who’s from Fayette County, is ready to go.
“It was tense on campus for a little while because everybody was nervous about it, they were afraid that it wasn’t going to make it through the move and we were going to lose students, but I don’t think any of that’s going to happen,” she said.
“I think the campus will just grow and improve from the move.”
“Tech is not the buildings. It’s the people and that legacy will continue when we go to Beckley,” said Wood Cunningham.
Aug. 16 is the first day of classes for WVU Tech, in full, in Beckley.