In an unanimous decision on Monday, Oct. 14, New River Board of Governors chair Dave Nalker announced the Board had voted not to return the contested pool funds to the county.
“I would now like to call for a motion to return to the County Commission a sum of zero dollars,” Nalker stated for the press.
In addition, the Board announced they will ask the College Foundation to proceed with filing an interpleader action with the Greenbrier County Circuit Court. An interpleader action means the court will oversee the funds held by the College Foundation in an equitable proceeding to determine the ownership rights of either New River or the GCC to the same money.
In a phone interview with the Mountain Messenger, Dr. L. Marshall Washington, president of NRCTC, shared the reasons behind the decision by the Board of Governors.
“I’m not sure what [the Commission] will do,” Dr. Washington said, now that the college has announced its refusal to repay the funds to the county. “The college has been negotiating with the commission at considerable cost and hardship with working on the pool project,” he said. “New River has expended money on planning, architectural design and the infrastructure of the Arts and Science building and the swimming pool area.” Additional costs will now be required to address the pool portion of the building.
On Oct. 2, Dr. Washington and the attorney for the college, Charles Houdyshell of the state attorney general’s office, met with commission representative, Mike McClung and the county prosecuting attorney Patrick Via. A settlement figure of $400,000 was offered and found unacceptable by Commissioner McClung.
At the following Oct. 8 County Commission meeting, McClung had declined to speak of the negotiations with Dr. Washington. At the time, McClung had said he did not go to “make a deal.” He said he was waiting to hear from the NRCTC Board of Governors. “Until they meet,” he said, “it would not be appropriate for me to publicly say anything further.”
Previously, it was revealed in the press release, on Sept. 23, the New River Board of Governors, in a board meeting, had voted to request the NRCTC Foundation return $300,000 to the Greenbrier County Commission. The check was cashed on Sept. 30.
Dr. Washington commented, “There has been no communication from the Commission concerning the return of the $300,000.”
The commission has met twice since then and has yet to make that announcement public.
“It’s unfortunate that these series of events have occurred, however, the College has done no wrong and we will continue to support Greenbrier County in good faith,” stated Dr. Washington. “New River Community and Technical College is here to support our mission of providing accessible, affordable, quality education and workforce programs to meet the needs of the region we serve.” New River’s operations at the Greenbrier Valley Campus contributes nearly $12,000,000 each year into the regional economy.
During the phone interview, he added, “It disturbs me as a person new to southern West Virginia, coming in upon a change in the make up of the County Commission, to continue the work on moving forward to make this [project] happen with the college. The change in makeup has contributed to not wanting to move forward, and that is what concerns the Board of Governors. If, when working with others on a mutual concern, who then change on a dime, how are we to trust those people on both sides of the issue?”
As a result of the change in the commission’s view (compounded by the ruling handed down by Judge Vickers), the College is left with half of a building that is not usable with no funds to renovate it.
“A gift was made to the college for one million dollars,” Dr. Washington said. “There have been costs and time spent and the college rightfully wants to negotiate with the County Commission for what’s reasonable to cover those costs and expenses.”
Approximately five years ago the Greenbrier County Commission approached New River requesting assistance in renovating the swimming pool for use of the citizens of Greenbrier County. After long discussions, New River agreed to lease 9,500 square feet of the building to the commission in Jan. 2011 to accommodate that request.
Now since the County Commission having cancelled the lease with New River, expiring on Aug. 31, 2013, at the end of the required 30 day period, there will be delays in the plans for the new Arts and Science building project. The school will not hold the opening of the finished building scheduled for January of 2014 as planned. There are still expenses to manage, among them a sprinkler and fire alarm system to bring up to code.
This experience, Dr. Washington said is both a challenge as well as an opportunity “to display what do we do when we don’t agree. We are civil; we can talk and come together to discuss. That’s what a democracy is all about.”
“We cannot think we can watch reality TV and assume that that’s the way real life is. Instead, we can still show decorum and respect. We want to work with the Commission, be good citizens and serve the county, but we must support our mission first.” Having gone out on a limb with the county, he said, the College must now proceed in good faith that both sides share the same desire to resolve this contentious controversy.