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Area officials pleased with judge's grant ruling

January 22, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A judge on Tuesday upheld the state's process for handing out economic development grants, meaning Jefferson County Schools officials will receive the $6 million promised to help build a new high school and Eastern Regional Airport officials will receive $1 million to build a new terminal.

The grants, announced last year, were held up because of a lawsuit. Now, the state can proceed with the sale of $215 million in bonds for the projects approved by the state Economic Development Grant Committee.

In his ruling, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles King ordered a special committee to reconsider a $70 million grant awarded for a proposed outlet mall in Wheeling, W.Va.

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Lori Stilley, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said she was excited to hear Tuesday evening that King had ruled bonds can be sold for the projects.

Work toward building a second high school continues to progress. Jefferson officials asked for $10 million for the proposed school from the state School Building Authority. A decision on that funding request is expected in March.

Also, a deal is nearly finalized that would allow the school to be built on a parcel of land within Huntfield, a housing development off U.S. 340 south of Charles Town.

"This (news) certainly makes it even better," Stilley said.

The new high school is expected to cost between $30 million and $32 million to build, she said.

Bill Walkup, manager of Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport outside of Martinsburg, also was enthusiastic to hear of King's decision.

"It's wonderful," Walkup said.

However, with no word on when the money will be in hand, Walkup said he was uncertain when construction will be finished.

The proposed terminal's basement, which will house high-voltage switch gears that control airfield lighting, is finished.

Bids were solicited last summer for the rest of the work, and an apparent low bidder was recognized. However, Walkup said he was not sure whether the same bids can be used or if new ones will be needed.

Along with the school board and airport, one other area company received funding from the grant committee.

PROSystems Inc., a company based in Sharpsburg, received a grant for $280,000 to build a new manufacturing facility in Burr Industrial Park in Bardane, W.Va.

PROSystems Inc. makes hollow retroreflectors, which are often used in laser tracking and surveying equipment.

The nine members of the grant committee reviewed 195 applications totaling $1.16 billion before they agreed to award money to 35 projects totaling $215 million.

Members of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group filed the lawsuit challenging the grants.

Group members argued the committee's makeup violates the constitutional requirement for separation of powers because legislative leaders selected the panel from people appointed to the committee by Gov. Bob Wise. It also charged that the panel gave preferential treatment to Wheeling's Victorian-themed mall project.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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