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Space still an issue for W.Va. technical school

July 10, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Blue Ridge Community & Technical College's ongoing crunch for classroom space surfaced again last week when Berkeley County leaders were told that the school was using space in the county's West Stephen Street office building that is not covered by their lease.

The college's use of the cafeteria on the second floor of the Dunn building was mentioned by County Administrator Deborah Hammond when county commissioners reviewed county facility cleaning expenses listed in the weekly purchase order log.

Hammond noted the $28,957 monthly bill submitted by LeScrub Janitorial Services of Martinsburg, included "extra cleaning" for the cafeteria.

Hammond later said the college was using the space for more than a year and that the school had requested to hold classes there.

"It really varies from week to week," Hammond said of the school's usage of the space, which she's been documenting since January 2007.

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"We're certainly happy to accommodate them when we can," said Hammond, who did say she would ask the county's finance department to review the matter. Any potential liability concern posed by the gap in the county's lease agreement with the county for the first floor of the Dunn building was not immediately clear.

County Commission President Steven C. Teufel said Thursday that the college had a contract with the county that he didn't believe expired until 2015.

CTC President Peter Checkovich later Thursday afternoon downplayed the college's use of cafeteria space, but acknowledged the school's enrollment growth is continuing, even as the school's plans for expansion have yet to be settled.

Checkovich projected enrollment for the fall semester to top 2,100 students and possibly reach 2,200. In the school's May commencement, 164 students received associate degrees in a variety of programs, including safety technology, fire safety, criminal justice, nursing, paralegal, business, and general studies. In February, Checkovich said 1,953 students were enrolled at the school.

Though no purchase agreements have been signed, Checkovich said he and members of the school's governing board have zeroed in on one particular piece of property that is "very, very close" to the City of Martinsburg, City Hospital and Interstate 81. School officials are still determining whether it is a viable option, he said.

Though not a downtown Martinsburg location as some business and community leaders have advocated, Checkovich said the location being eyed factors in school leaders' belief that they need more land, possibly 25 acres or more for a campus and future growth.

Familiar with the location being eyed, state Sen. John Unger said on Friday that the site could include valuable visibility along I-81 and added that the school potentially stands to benefit from being in close proximity to City Hospital.

Unger, D-Berkeley, had previously suggested school leaders consider purchasing a former shopping plaza property in the 500 block of South Raleigh Street near the county's judicial center, but the County Commission in February 2007 decided to follow up on an option they had in place to purchase the 5.51-acre Martin's grocery/CVS store property and bought it for $3.15 million.

Unger also had suggested the acreage be combined with the adjoining Boydville estate, about a 13-acre parcel to complete the campus.

"That was merely a suggestion," Unger said. "It might work out for the best (now) because they will have a campus" and could build with programs in mind, instead of retrofitting an existing building.

A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Unger said $3 million in funding still is in place to help the college with the campus project and believes additional money through a bond issue is still a viable option that lawmakers could revisit next year.

Unger said he believes the funding mechanism died because members of the House of Delegates didn't feel they had enough time to review the bond issue being proposed for community and technical colleges across the state.

"I guarantee as soon as they're ready, I'm going to do everything in my power to get them into their new facility," Unger said.

Unger agreed that the latest example of the college's crunch for space adds urgency to expedite the development of a new campus. Checkovich in February said he hoped to have a new facility open by 2009.

Rather than simply begin limiting enrollment because of space shortage, Unger also suggested options for temporary classroom space for the college could be explored with Berkeley County Schools and the James Rumsey Technical Institute.

"We need to get them settled into a new home and get them established so they can focus on the thing they do best and that's education," Unger said.

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