University goes Public with new building

March 23, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


When it was a magistrate court building, a sewer pipe that ran through the ceiling of one of the courtrooms would prompt court officials to warn witnesses to watch their heads as they took the stand.

Water had leaked through the roof, causing some wooden floors to buckle and ceilings to collapse.

"It was dangerous walking through this thing," said Jim Herhusky, executive vice president of the American Public University System, which now owns the former magistrate court building at the corner of George and Congress streets.

Today, the building is being described as a "jewel."

American Public University, an Internet-based university that moved its headquarters to Charles Town in 2003, purchased the old court building to make room for its quickly expanding staff.


In 2004, the university bought the building from the Jefferson County Commission for $205,000 in an auction and later started a $1.3 million renovation of the two-story building.

The brick building was rewired and new heating and air conditioning systems were installed, Herhusky said. Some of the buckled floors had to be torn out and other parts of the original floor were sanded and preserved, Herhusky said.

"We just stripped it out and started over," Herhusky said.

The university moved into the building early last month and on Wednesday, dozens of school officials and local dignitaries attended an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"I think it's just a superb historic renovation. It's a jewel," former Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton said after seeing the inside.

West Virginia first lady Gayle Manchin attended the ceremony and cut the ribbon at the front entrance before a crowd that stood below.

American Public University System offers associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs and school officials say they offer some of the nation's best programs in homeland security, intelligence, national security, and emergency and disaster management.

Because the courses are offered online, American Public University System's 13,000 students are scattered around the world in 130 countries.

Manchin said the school shows what can be done in education, particularly in public education.

In rural sections of the state, technology allows some schools to get needed classes that are not available, Manchin said.

Besides, online learning is an area that does not intimidate children, Manchin said.

"Young people are so attuned to technology," Manchin said.

American Public University System had a staff of about 80 when it opened in the former Knott Nursing Home around the corner on Congress Street.

The staff now consists of about 144 people and is expected to grow to about 175 people this year, said Herhusky.

During the open house, visitors were allowed to see the neatly appointed offices that still have some of the original decor, such as frosted glass windows on office doors.

Built in 1940, the building also served as offices for the board of education and health department.

The renovation was done under the supervision of the National Park Service and the school received tax credits for renovating the building, school officials said.

According to the Higher Learning Commission's Web site, American Public University is a candidate for accreditation with the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

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