College to propose move

August 08, 2000

College to propose move

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Shepherd College officials will formally propose to the West Virginia Interim Governing Board Aug. 23 that their community and technical college move to a vacated outlet center in downtown Martinsburg.

The board, which must give its approval for the move from the college's Shepherdstown campus to the Blue Ridge Outlet Center, likely will have a number of questions, said Chair Cathy Armstrong.

"We will want to make sure they have a careful and reasonable analysis," Armstrong said. "It always concerns me if people have excellent ideas, if those ideas can't get traction because all the i's haven't been dotted and the t's crossed."

She sent an e-mail to college President David Dunlop July 19 warning of possible "embarrassment" if the college moved ahead on plans without following proper procedures.


"We have found in the past that if an institution 'lets the horse out of the barn' in advance of running matters through the necessary approval steps, unnecessary difficulty and embarrassment usually results for the institution," she wrote in an e-mail message. After talking to Dunlop, she now believes he understands that, she said.

Dunlop said the college always intended to present the proposal to the Interim Governing Board. The college has been criticized by state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, and others, for its public announcement of the move before any approvals were obtained.

"We always intended to go before the board and everyone understood that except Sen. Unger," Dunlop said. "He's not happy with the selection of the site, so he wants everything to slow down."

Dunlop said the college looked at 12 sites in an "in-house" study and concluded the Blue Ridge would be the best. That could still change, he said.

"We're not committed to the Blue Ridge," he said. "We are committed to downtown Martinsburg."

Unger said an outside consultant should review the issue and public hearings should be held. He believes the college tried to present the plan as a "fait accompli" when it made the public announcement, putting the state board in an awkward position.

"We can't have a board overseeing higher education in West Virginia be a rubber-stamp board," Unger said. "Having it before the board this way could create the perception they are just a rubber stamp. And if they don't approve it, they're the bad guys."

Dunlop said no further study is necessary for what is a "common sense" solution, he said.

Armstrong said the board members will review the project with the practiced eyes of people familiar with higher education in the state. They will not approve anything unless they get their questions answered, she said.

The issue also may be sent to the new Higher Education Policy Commission to see if it fits with overall plans for higher education in the state, she said. And, she added, "I suspect public hearings will be held," a common practice with issues like this.

Board members are not the only ones with questions.

Two members of the Martinsburg City Council say they want more than words to back up a possible city commitment of $92,000 a year for the first three years of a lease at the outlet center.

City officials are trying to arrange a meeting with college officials.

"Unfortunately, the council has not been informed precisely about the college moving to Martinsburg other than hearing 'it's looking good and it's moving along,' which is what we heard from the former mayor," said Council Finance Committee Chairman Richard Yauger. "This is the people of Martinsburg's money and ...we're going to have to look at it from a financial standpoint. We need to see a financial statement from them. Maybe there's other money they can use other than the city's."

He and Councilman Glenville Twigg said the city needs "protections" built into any lease. They are concerned the city could spend more than a quarter of a million dollars over three years, then have the landlord raise the lease too high or refuse to renew it.

"At the end of three years, we've got a big investment," Twigg said. "He (the landlord) has us in a lot of ways."

Dunlop said leasing is the best arrangement because the college can pull out if students don't come or the rent increases too much.

"We can't afford to wait three or four years to build," Dunlop said.

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