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Shepherd to begin negotiations for lease

August 23, 2000

Shepherd to begin negotiations for lease



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - State higher education officials gave Shepherd College permission Wednesday to enter into negotiations to rent a facility in Martinsburg to move the school's community and technical college from Shepherdstown.

They stopped short, however, of approving the college's specific recommendation of the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg.

Shepherd College President David L. Dunlop said Wednesday evening the resolution approved by members of the state Higher Education Interim Governing Board "allows us to move forward with the next step of the project - to enter into negotiations with any landlords."

Dunlop said the project is moving slower than some people would like, but after Wednesday's meeting he has a sense of support from the state board.

"The board did an excellent job in absorbing a tremendous amount of information on the project," Dunlop said.

The state board has given Shepherd officials six weeks to close a deal. The next meeting of the state board is scheduled for Sept. 27.

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Dunlop said when state board officials were told Wednesday during the 1 hour and 45 minute session with Shepherd College officials that another site could fit their needs, the state board "gave us permission to negotiate with both of them or any others." Dunlop said the resolution the state board approved gives Shepherd College "more flexibility.

"It gives us more leverage" in negotiations, Dunlop said.

"If we can't find a property that we can afford to rent - nothing moves," he added.

Shepherd College's community college is currently in a basement at the Shepherdstown campus. It serves Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

John Hoblitzell, chairman of the new Higher Education Policy Commission - a second organization that will set policies for higher education following a higher education reform bill passed in the state - said the state board is concerned about how the project will be financed.

The city of Martinsburg has pledged $92,000 per year for an unspecified number of years if the college moves there and Gov. Cecil Underwood has pledged $100,000 a year in state money. The school is also counting on about $239,000 from the Legislature, $20,000 in private gifts, $30,000 in student tuition and $75,000 from other sources.

Higher Education Interim Governing Board members expressed concern about counting on revenue from the Legislature that hasn't been approved yet.

"I am discomforted that we need to wait until February to see if $200,000 to $300,000 will be available from the Legislature," said board Chairwoman Cathy Armstrong.

The proposal to move the community college to the abandoned Blue Ridge Outlet Center has been much in dispute since the July 19 public announcement about its relocation. State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, and other elected officials have called for a more detailed, objective look at alternative sites.

Despite the concerns, the Higher Education Interim Governing Board thinks where to relocate the community college is a decision that should be left up to the college, said Allison Adler, spokeswoman for the board.

"I don't think there was an objection to Blue Ridge per se," said Hoblitzell.

Hoblitzell said he thinks one reason the resolution was changed was because the Tanger Outlet Center on King Street surfaced as a possible location for the community college.

Earlier this month, the CEO of Tanger said he has the desire to lease space for the college but felt he was being shut out of the selection process. Although Stanley Tanger said an attorney for the college told him to submit a proposal to the college, he said he later got a call from the governor's office telling him not to bother.

Dunlop told the interim governing board that one issue to consider with the Blue Ridge Outlet Center is that creditors to the center have not approved any lease agreement. Although the Tanger Outlet Center has been offered as a site, there are still tenants in the Martinsburg complex, Adler said.

Shepherd is considering moving its community college to Martinsburg because local business owners and economic development experts have said it is important to have a community college in Berkeley County to offer much needed job-training skills.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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