By Peggy Mackenzie
New River Community and Technical College President L. Marshall Washington issued a statement early Wednesday morning in response to Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick’s order that $1 million in hotel-motel tax funds be returned to the Greenbrier County Commission.
Washington stressed that although the hotel-motel monies are being returned, the County Commission is still accountable for money owed to New River CTC for the cancelled renovation of the pool in the college’s Arts and Science building. The College has sued the commission for payment, and a court date for that case has been set for June of next year.
“Just because the county commission used hotel-motel tax funds inappropriately does not absolve them from their responsibility to repay us for costs incurred in a joint project that they chose to cancel,” Washington said.
Speaking from the top of the stairs to the Arts and Science building on the Lewisburg campus with faculty and foundation members, Washington said, “It is unfortunate the impact falls mainly on the students of NRCTC. This building is sitting unused. The county had several options to make this right, but chose not to do so,” Washington said. “However, New River CTC will continue to work with the county commission to resolve this issue. Our attorneys are talking with their attorneys. We want to reach an agreement,” Washington said.
“Will the taxpayers have to pay for the costs to the building?” a reporter asked. Washington responded, “That decision is not up to the college.”
Approximately six years ago the Greenbrier County Commission approached New River Community and Technical College requesting assistance in renovating the swimming pool located in the former student activities building of Greenbrier College for use as a public facility for the citizens of Greenbrier County. The building is now owned by the college and was about to be renovated to create classrooms and a student center. Although the college made it clear that they did not want to own or operate a pool, the Board of Governors was persuaded to lease 9,500 square feet of the building to the Commission for $1 per year. The pool was to be operated by the county.
The college and the commission agreed to use the same architect and contractor so that the projects could be completed simultaneously. Early in 2013, the commission paid the college $1.3 million to cover the pool renovation, and work started soon thereafter, including installing the electrical and plumbing infrastructure required to support the pool, which now is purposeless.
About the time work began, a group of citizens filed a suit contending that hotel-motel tax could not lawfully expended for the pool because the building was not owned by the county. The judge in that case ruled for the plaintiffs, and the college immediately offered to deed the portion of the building containing the pool to the county so that the funds could be legally expended. The county commission turned down this offer, and on July 10, 2013, cancelled the lease with New River and demanded return of the entire $1.3 million. The college returned $300,000, but the remaining million was tied up in the courts until Kirkpatrick’s ruling.
“The College Foundation had filed the interpleader and asked the court to decide how the funds should be distributed. We have reviewed the court’s recent order dated Oct. 29, 2014. This is a procedural ruling that does not decide the underlying merits of the case. New River Community and Technical College will continue to litigate this action to protect its rights, and, unless a settlement can be reached prior to trial, we will move forward with its claims as set forth in the cross-claim against the Greenbrier County Commission,” Washington stated.
“Since the pool was never renovated and is not going to be used, the fire marshal has required us to seal off that portion of the building, and we have incurred even more costs to do that and to install a new HVAC system required by that change. The building is almost ready to be occupied, but we do not have the funds to furnish it because of all the added expenses. We have incurred legal expenses and delays because of the ongoing dispute. We hope that the commission will accept responsibility for the expense and inconvenience that their cancellation of the lease has caused and they will be willing to negotiate a settlement with us before the June court date,” Washington said.