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Community college to be placed at outlets

July 19, 2000

Community college to be placed at outlets



By ANDREW SCHOTZ and BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writers, Martinsburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

Crawford BuildingMARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Gov. Cecil Underwood Wednesday announced that the Blue Ridge Outlets would be the new home for a community college.

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Underwood and state legislators also pledged a total of $300,000 to help move Shepherd College's Community and Technical College's offices and classes from Shepherdstown, W.Va., to Martinsburg.

Several civic and business leaders praised Underwood. He received a key to the city and a shirt bearing the name of the community college. The leaders thanked each other for the hard work that led to the decision.

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However, after the fanfare, lawmakers and college officials acknowledged that the money and the location are not definite.

"It's not a done deal yet," said Peter Checkovich, provost of the community college. "There's still a process we have to go through."

He cautioned, "This is just a proposal at this stage."

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, raised concerns even as he expressed his strong support for a community college in Berkeley County. He called for public meetings and said studies that analyze this and other potential sites should be shared.

"I've heard such studies exist and I think they should be made available to the press and public," Unger said from Chicago, where he is attending a conference. "And if there haven't been any studies done, that raises a red flag of its own."

Checkovich said the college has no specific study to show the costs, benefits or possible number of students. But college officials believe that if they open the campus, the students will come.

"It's always a guess, no matter what paper you have to back it up," Checkovich said. "Our estimate is that it will pay off."

The college is trying to present a specific funding and relocation plan to the college's advisory board and the state's newly formed interim higher education governing board for their approval.

Checkovich said he hopes the college can start classes at Blue Ridge by Jan. 1. He envisions that about 1,000 students will be enrolled initially and as many as 2,000 students within three to five years.

Shepherd's community college has 15 degree programs in Shepherdstown, according to Checkovich.

The college also operates a small branch at James Rumsey Technical Institute in Hedgesville, W.Va., and another branch in Petersburg, W.Va. Non-degree course programs are offered at Musselman and Berkeley Springs high schools, and other high schools may soon be included, Checkovich said.

A plan devised by Shepherd administrators said the college would pay the owner of the Blue Ridge Outlets $173,000 the first year, $259,000 the second year and $326,000 the third year.

The outlet center in downtown Martinsburg, once home to about 50 retail shops, closed its doors this year after 16 years in business.

The City of Martinsburg has said it would contribute $92,000, while Shepherd would pay between $687,440 and $851,000.

Checkovich said the college's share of the cost would come from transferring equipment and personnel from Shepherdstown to Martinsburg.

Underwood said Wednesday that he will provide $100,000 from the governor's contingency fund.

State Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, and Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, promised $100,000 from the state Senate and House, respectively.

That money, though, would be in the form of appropriations bills that legislators would have to approve.

Snyder said he is confident the Senate will approve the funding. He said that he finally convinced Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin to consent to the bill at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Douglas said college officials assured her they could begin operations without the House or Senate money.

"They've got money in there from other sources," Douglas said. "There's money from the city, the governor, their own money and some private entities who have expressed interest in helping out. This may be for the best because they can get started and there may be unexpected costs that may come up."

Underwood told reporters he is "not familiar with the details of site location."

He said the college "can't wait a whole year" until a permanent higher education policy board is formed.

Checkovich said it would be Shepherd College President Dave Dunlop's call on whether to hold hearings and working out the next steps in the process.

Although Berkeley County's unemployment rate is hovering near 3 percent, Underwood and other civic and business leaders said new, high-tech companies want homegrown employees. That's why moving the community college closer to the population center of the panhandle makes so much sense, they said.

"We have a very good work force with a very good work ethic," said former Martinsburg Mayor Earnest Sparks. "However, they are untrained for these high-tech jobs."

The economy of the Eastern Panhandle will provide "real jobs filled by real people who will need education to get those jobs," Underwood said.

Bruce Van Wyk, a local developer, said the community college is "an important step forward" for the region.

In the last decade, the population in Berkeley County has grown by 20 percent, the number of jobs has grown by 30 percent, and the unemployment rate has plummeted, but the per capita income has lagged, Van Wyk said.

Underwood spokesman Dan Page downplayed any political benefits from the college move for a Republican governor locked in a re-election struggle. Underwood faces U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., in the fall.

"The governor just wanted to express his support for the project," Page said.

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