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Online university building $10M center in Charles Town

October 15, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- For years, a large vacant lot at 320 N. George St. was home to a metals recycling scrap yard. On Thursday morning, a row of shiny, metal shovels broke ground for its replacement -- a $10 million, 45,000-square-foot academic center for online learning.

"The construction of a new building is particularly important to any community, especially during this time of heightened global economic uncertainty," Wallace Boston, president of American Public University System, owner of the new building, said in remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony.

When completed in about 14 months, the new center will house academic and admissions facilities and employ 140 people, Boston said.

Until the 1980s, what is now a vacant field covering 1.3 acres was a metals salvage yard owned by Hyman Viner, according local officials.

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency worked with West Virginia EPA officials to clean up the site, said David R. Lloyd, director of the federal Office of Brownfield and Land Revitalization. 

Lloyd, who attended the groundbreaking, said his office provided money to assess the damage and pay toward its cleanup.

The university, founded in 1999, moved to Charles Town in 2002 with a handful of employees. An accredited online higher education institution, it has more than 53,000 students in 76 degree programs, about a fourth of whom are in master's programs, university spokesman Christopher Symanoskie said.

The school has 200 full-time faculty members, including about 20 who teach from Charles Town. The total payroll is about 250 employees, he said.

Teachers are spread around the country and overseas, Symanoskie said.

"Since it's online learning, they can teach anywhere," he said.

Harry Wilkinson, chief financial officer for the university, said school leaders chose Charles Town because of its location, because they liked the community and because the West Virginia Department of Education was helpful and friendly regarding the move to the area in 2002.

Boston said from the first day the university moved to Charles Town it has been "mindful of the sensitive historical context that downtown presents to an expanding business. We value and appreciate the collegial atmosphere of the small town and have consistently resisted efforts to expand elsewhere."

When the new building opens next year, it will bring the total space to more than 100,000 square feet with a total construction value of $16 million, Boston said.

The university has an annual payroll of $16 million. It paid $600,000 in state income taxes in 2008 and $200,000 in local property taxes, Boston said.

"APUS is proud of its role as an economic development catalyst in the community, creating new jobs and renovating and building new buildings," Boston said.

He called the university-town partnership "a shining example of what can happen when private enterprise works hand-in-hand with local government, community groups and the business community."

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