The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 3, 2013

New River president wades into pool funding controversy

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

LEWISBURG — With costly renovations to the Student Activities Center on the Greenbrier Valley campus more than halfway complete, officials at New River Community and Technical College are undeniably invested in the outcome of this morning’s Greenbrier County Commission meeting.

The agenda for the meeting calls for the commission to consider its existing lease for the proposed aquatic center located inside the Student Activities Center building and a proposed “condo deed” on that same facility.

But at the heart of those discussions is the $1.3 million in hotel/motel tax revenue that commissioners gave to the college’s foundation in December. That money was earmarked to rehab the old swimming pool, with the understanding the county would operate the aquatic center, once completed.

Hopes for a public indoor pool began to sink, however, when a judge ruled late last week that bed tax money cannot be used for a recreational project on property not owned by either the county or a municipality.

Today’s meeting marks the first time commissioners have gathered to discuss the potential fallout from Judge Charles M. Vickers’ order.

New River President Dr. L. Marshall Washington spoke with The Register-Herald by telephone Tuesday afternoon and shared the college’s perspective on the controversy.

“We have a standing lease agreement with the Greenbrier County Commission, and the college has expended money on the Fine Arts and Aquatic Center,” Washington said. “The county commission has a responsibility. They leased (the aquatic center) from us.”

He pointed out, “We didn’t approach the county commission about (rehabbing) the swimming pool; they approached us. We thought we were doing a service for the community.”

Washington said college officials hope to have the Student Activities Center open when the spring semester begins in January, noting, “Work has been done on the center. It’s more than halfway complete. Much of the infrastructure is in place.”

Many of the structural upgrades that have already been completed were necessitated by the county’s desire to see the pool restored, the college’s president stressed.

“These were not normal upgrades that would have been needed if the pool were not an issue,” Washington said, giving as an example measures that were taken to mitigate humidity surrounding the section of the building where the pool is located.

“We’ve put a lot of time, effort and resources into the swimming pool,” he said.

Sited between Greenbrier Hall and the Greenbrier Valley Library in Lewisburg, the Student Activities Center will also house classrooms, a fine arts gallery and studios, a cafe, faculty offices and an allied health lab.

On a 2-1 vote, Greenbrier commissioners rejected an offer in April to take ownership of the portion of the 23,000-square-foot building that holds the swimming pool, saying they wanted to wait for the judge’s ruling.

Commission President Karen Lobban said at the time that she believed accepting the proffered “condo deed” would have forced the dismissal of a petition for a writ of mandamus and thus ended costly litigation. It was the mandamus action that resulted in Judge Vickers ruling that the bed tax allocation was illegal.

“We floated the ‘condo deed’ to the county commission months ago,” Washington confirmed Tuesday. “They recently reached out to us again and requested more information, which we provided.”

While he acknowledged that the deed appears to provide a solution to the county’s funding dilemma, Washington emphasized that the college’s position is that a lease was signed and the county assumed certain responsibilities as a result.

“The judge’s ruling didn’t mention the college,” he pointed out.

While New River does not plan to have an official representative at this morning’s commission meeting, Washington said, “There may be interested citizens there who have ties to the college.”

He said he expects the future of the proposed aquatic center to be discussed when the college’s Greenbrier Valley Board of Advisors meets on the Lewisburg campus later this month.

“The college is here to provide accessible, affordable, quality education to the people of our region,” Washington stated. “We will continue to support the Greenbrier County Commission in good faith.”

The commission session is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today in the first floor courtroom of the county courthouse in Lewisburg.

New River’s Greenbrier Valley Board of Advisors is slated to meet July 18 at 6 p.m. in Room 415 of Greenbrier Hall.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com