Groundbreaking brings spark to Reconnecting McDowell partnership

WELCH, W.Va. — The centerpiece of the Reconnecting McDowell public-private partnership to revitalize schools and the local economy is now taking shape.

Local, state and national union leaders were on hand Monday morning in Welch for the groundbreaking of Renaissance Village, a multistory construction project that will eventually house educators and public workers.

The groundbreaking has been looked forward to for years as Reconnecting McDowell began in 2011.

“This is what education unions ought to be doing,” American Federation of Teachers (AFT) national president Randi Weingarten said on Monday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline.’ “We are making a difference in the lives of people. Whether it is urban, suburban, or rural we have to help small towns thrive again.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten

The program was launched in December 2011 by the AFT and former West Virginia first lady Gayle Manchin to help address a decade’s long struggle to retain educators and revitalize the local economy.

According to Welch officials, Renaissance Village will be the first multistory construction in Welch in more than 50 years. The facility will have 16 apartments on two floors along with two additional floors of retail and commercial space. It sits on site of where the Best Furniture building used to be.

“Building infrastructure is a way of creating that economic spark,” Weingarten said.

For years, the county has struggled to keep educators in the area and the partners are hoping this modern housing will help retain those who drive long distances for work and be able to recruit others to the area.

“Teachers come around an hour or two hours traveling in and out,” Weingarten said. “People want to live in McDowell, they want to live in the community in which they teach. We were told that several years ago in polling, talking to and community meetings with parents, teachers and the school board.”

Construction is scheduled to take around a year and is focused on the town center, with an eye toward revitalizing Main Street.

The building will be managed by a new nonprofit called Renaissance Village Inc. How much rent will be has yet to be determined.

Reconnecting McDowell has over 100 partners in its 8th year, which has led to a vast improvement in the county in education. According to the latest statistics from the West Virginia Department of Education, the four-year high school graduation rate has increased steadily from 74 percent in 2010-11 to 92 percent in 2017-18. The high school dropout rate has decreased from 4.5 percent in 2010-11 to less than 1 percent in 2017-18.

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