WELCH — Local, state and national dignitaries were in Welch Monday morning to celebrate the official groundbreaking of Renaissance Village, a housing project for teachers.
Part of the revitalization group Reconnecting McDowell, the project, which is located beside the movie theater in the downtown, will include 16 apartments designed specifically to house teachers, offering rental property at an affordable price.
Gayle Manchin, chair of Reconnecting McDowell as well as former teacher and past chair of the state Board of Education, led the event.
“This is a beautiful day in West Virginia,” she said. “This is a more beautiful day in Welch in McDowell County. We have waited for this day and worked for this day for longer than we wanted to have worked for this day …”
Manchin said good things happen when “many good people come together.”
“We understood it wasn’t just about recruiting teachers, it was about giving them good reasons to stay like good housing,” she said. “So we said, that is going to be our major endeavor.”
“We are here today to celebrate … the beginning of a new venture with the Renaissance Village,” said McDowell County Schools Superintendent Carolyn Falin. “We are excited. We are hoping this will provide new housing opportunities for prospective teachers and be the first step in attracting and retaining teachers.”
Delegate Ed Evans (D-McDowell County) said he is “thrilled about it.”
“One of the biggest problems we have in getting teachers is housing,” he said, adding that he is teaching as a full-time substitute to help out although he had already retired as a teacher.
“Hopefully this will bring some teachers in … and it can also serve as a hub for activity downtown,” he added.
Manchin said an initial groundbreaking took place last year as the project was ready to get off the ground but another one was set for today after all of the funding was in place to complete the project.
Other dignitaries on hand included State Superintendent of Education Dr. Steven Paine, Cecil Roberts, national president of the United Mine Workers Association, and Randi Weingarten, national president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The $5.5 million housing project should be ready in time for the 2020-21 school year.