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Berkeley Co. buys building

Panel agrees to pay $3.15 million for vacant shopping center

Panel agrees to pay $3.15 million for vacant shopping center

February 21, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Building Commission on Tuesday voted to pay $3.15 million for a vacant shopping center across from the newly opened judicial center in Martinsburg for future government operations.

"Look what happened to us in the judicial center," Ronald K. Collins said after the five-member panel agreed to the purchase he requested on behalf of fellow county commissioners, who do not have the authority to take such actions. "We thought we had space."

Collins said the shopping center property in the 500 block of South Raleigh Street tentatively is being eyed for a future courthouse and offices for the county's planning, engineering and the environmental services division of the health department.

"I don't know what we'll do with the (old) courthouse other than close it up," Collins said.

The county's decision essentially ends an effort by Blue Ridge Community & Technical College to purchase the property, but Jane Peters, chairperson of the school's board of governors, said Tuesday night the county's decision could turn out to be "a blessing in disguise," noting the property would have been suitable for a number of years, but not for the long term.

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"We will definitely need to do something," Peters said. "I don't think it's a crisis or anything."

Faced with enrollment growth of nearly 50 percent in two years, Blue Ridge Community & Technical College President Peter Checkovich said that the school hoped to have a second facility in use by 2009.

Checkovich had said the school was pressing lawmakers and higher education officials to allocate money to help purchase the vacant shopping center, formerly home to Martin's and CVS.

But that money would not have paid for renovations to the vacant buildings, and state Sen. John Unger said Friday he was urging college administrators to explore partnerships with other government entities and the private sector to spur the expansion ahead.

Beginning last summer, Collins told building commissioners that the county was not in competition with the college to purchase the property, but first were to negotiate with KIMCO Realty Corp. and initially had offered $3.2 million.

Collins said the realty company had asked for $3.8 million, but through negotiations, ultimately the company agreed to sell it for $3.15 million.

The college's lease for the first floor of the Berkeley County government's Dunn Building expires in about seven years, but Checkovich said Friday that the school's evening classes now practically take up all available space in the building, and space for staff is at a premium as well. The school's enrollment - now nearing a head count of 2,000 students - led the state's nine other community and technical colleges in enrollment growth. It was the only school to experience a double-digit percentage growth in enrollment between the "early fall" of 2005 and 2006, Checkovich said Friday.

Collins said the county's newest property acquisition would not be targeted for government use until after the second phase of the judicial center and the EMS facility off Tablers Station Road is completed. He could not provide a time frame for the work to begin or an expected cost.

He said commissioners were advised that the county could afford to shoulder the additional debt incurred with the purchase of the shopping center.

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