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W.Va. bill could mean $13.5 million for Martinsburg technical college

February 15, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Legislation that outlines a capital improvement financing plan for several West Virginia community and technical colleges includes $13.5 million for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, state Sen. John Unger said Thursday.

The bill proposes the sale of bonds to generate about $78 million for projects at eight schools, including an instruction facility for Blue Ridge, said Unger, D-Berkeley.

The legislation originated Thursday afternoon in the Senate Education Committee, which recommended it pass and is expected to be reported to the Senate floor for consideration, Unger said.

"There's agreement by the governor," Unger said. "The Higher Education Policy Commission is recommending this and we originated it today.

"That's my understanding. Everybody's happy, for now."

As proposed, the legislation authorizes the Higher Education Policy Commission to issue revenue bonds for community and technical college capital improvement projects.

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Financed over 30 years, the improvements will be paid with a commitment of $5 million annually from the state's "regular" lottery money, Unger said.

Unger, a member of the Education Committee, said the money is in addition to $3 million in general revenue approved by lawmakers last year to help purchase property for a campus facility.

Last year's plan proposed the use of "excess" lottery revenue, which Unger said is considered less stable than lottery money generated from traditional scratch-off tickets and other games.

Earlier this week, Del. John Doyle said he and other lawmakers last year had pushed for a bond financing plan that would have included capital improvements for both two- and four-year schools, but nothing materialized until the last minute, when a bill "sprung from the head of Zeus" in the state Senate.

Given the current legislation being proposed, Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he wanted assurances that the 2009 session would include a proposal for four-year schools, such as Shepherd University, which is in his district in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Doyle said he would support this year's attempt to help Blue Ridge, but hoped the school didn't move too far from its current location at 400 W. Stephen St. in Martinsburg.

"I think it is of critical importance that Blue Ridge stays downtown," Doyle said. "I don't think they'll continue to grow as fast (if they don't)."

Doyle said the Berkeley County Commission's decision to purchase a property about a block from its current facility along Raleigh Street was really "tragic."

After the school's administrators acknowledged plans to buy it, the commission "took it right out from under them," Doyle said.

"They really should have stayed right there," Doyle said. "That's just my opinion."

County officials have said they had an option to purchase what is known as the former Martin's Food Market property before the college had expressed interest.

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