CHARLESTON, W.Va.—The Reconnecting McDowell board of directors approved a plan today to purchase property in downtown Welch, W.Va., on which to build much-needed, affordable housing for teachers and other professionals.
"This is a huge milestone for a greatly anticipated endeavor intended to help retain teachers in McDowell County and to spark economic development," said Gayle Manchin, chair of the Reconnecting McDowell board.
Since Manchin and the American Federation of Teachers started the partnership in December 2011, it has grown into a vibrant effort to improve the county's schools, provide more social and healthcare services, and encourage economic development. Reconnecting McDowell now has 125 partners from government, nonprofit organizations, labor, corporations, the community and the school system engaged in providing sustainable programs and services to improve the quality of residents' lives.
Community Housing Partners, the architecture firm that is designing the housing, presented the board with a few options for a Teacher Village in downtown Welch. The board chose to enter into a purchase option on the property of the long-closed Best Furniture and Katzen buildings. The partnership will pursue in the next several weeks whether to renovate the existing buildings or construct a new building. The housing would include approximately 30 apartment-style units, group areas for teachers to collaborate, work out and relax, and community amenities such as a coffee shop on the street level for the general public. The board also agreed to explore the viability of other housing options throughout McDowell County.
"Reconnecting McDowell made new housing a key piece of its plan to revitalize the county. A Teacher Village will attract and retain teachers, provide good jobs and encourage more economic development," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "We are helping this proud community reclaim the promise of great schools and access to the services and programs they need to thrive."
Manchin said the partnership will be working on obtaining financing this winter and expects groundbreaking this spring. Reconnecting McDowell would own the building and hire an outside firm to manage it.