The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 16, 2013

New River building project proceeds

LEWISBURG — New River Community and Technical College is proceeding with plans for renovation of a building intended to be a fine arts and aquatic center, despite a pending legal case challenging the legality of Greenbrier County’s $1.3 million contribution toward the project.

New River Board of Governors member David Nalker read a brief statement from the college’s interim president, Dr. Merle Dempsey, during Tuesday evening’s Greenbrier County Commission meeting. In the statement, Dempsey said the college is “proceeding as originally planned” on the building’s renovation.

The structure in question is located on New River’s Greenbrier Valley campus in Lewisburg, between Greenbrier Hall and the Greenbrier County Public Library. Until recently, it housed West Virginia Division of Highways offices.

New River’s website refers to the ongoing renovation of the building, which will house not only fine arts classrooms, but also an allied health training center and a new student commons with a food service vendor.

Part of the funding for the renovation was provided by the Greenbrier County Commission, which late last year allocated $1.3 million in hotel/motel tax funds for the indoor pool in the structure, with an eye toward operating that portion of the facility as a public pool with paid memberships.

A group of county residents challenged that use of the bed tax money, however, and filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in November, asking the court to order the funds be returned and the contract with New River be voided.

That petition has since been revised, dropping reference to the contract and asking only that the court rule the commission voted on the allocation during illegal meetings and that the bed tax expenditure was improper.

In the most recent spate of filings in connection with the mandamus case, which is still pending in Greenbrier Circuit Court, the petitioners’ attorney, Barry Bruce, put forth a motion to bifurcate the issue of whether the meetings were illegal from the issue of whether the expenditure was improper.

In the motion for separate trials for the two issues, Bruce maintains that the meetings question is “a procedural issue that should be decided prior to hearing the (bed tax expenditure) violation.”

Responding on behalf of the county commission, attorney Richard A. Robb opposes the bifurcation on the grounds that “the meetings and subject matter of those meetings are intertwined to such extent, birfucation would constitute an abstract treatment of events as opposed to the circumstances in which they actually transpired.”

Robb maintains that, because the matters at hand “occurred simultaneously... Treating them together as they occurred would... be convenient, expeditious and economical.”

Bruce’s motion was filed Feb. 6 and Robb’s response March 12.

No further hearing has been set in the case, which is in the hands of senior status Circuit Judge Charles M. Vickers.

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