College, Town Officials Are Working Together

BETHANY – Each year around this time, the town of Bethany essentially quadruples in size over the course of a single weekend: Move-in weekend at Bethany College.

With the school and town so intricately connected, it would seem to make perfect sense for local government and college leaders to work together so both parties can get the most out of that connection. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Bethany Mayor Jay Eisenhauer and Bethany College President Scott Miller recently signed a memorandum of understanding, putting into writing something the two have already been working on for some time now: Ensuring a strong working relationship between the town government and the college.

Looking back over the years, that relationship wasn’t always a strong one, Eisenhauer recalls.

“That’s one thing we’ve really been trying to emphasize over the past few years, that everybody’s in this together,” Eisenhauer said. “I think if you go back, probably 20 years, there was a real separation (between the town and the college) at times, and I think that both sides now realize that working together is in the best interests of both.”

Housing is one area in which a strong partnership could benefit both the college and the town’s economy. Beyond the college campus, there are only about 190 housing units in Bethany, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Both Eisenhauer and Miller said there’s not nearly enough housing to meet the demand among the college staff, as well as some retirement-age residents for whom the cultural and recreational opportunities of living in a college town hold great appeal.

Eisenhauer said the town has been in talks with the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle about creating additional housing opportunities in Bethany. Nothing’s been finalized yet, but Miller said it could be in the college’s best interests to be a partner in those efforts.

“We want our faculty and our support staff to live in town because it contributes … to the vitality of the town and it contributes to the quality of student life on campus,” Miller said.

However, Miller said Bethany College is not interested in pursuing additional housing for students in town. Almost all of Bethany’s students live on campus, and Miller said that’s consistent with the school’s philosophy.

Eisenhauer said it’s important to him that students of the college feel like they’re a part of the Bethany community, and likewise, Miller said he wants residents of the town to feel comfortable attending fine arts performances, using recreational facilities or just taking a stroll through Bethany’s picturesque campus.

To that end, Eisenhauer said, the town has been holding various events, such as showing movies in the community park, farmers’ markets and potluck dinners. And the college has been doing more outreach in the town, too. For example, the college’s Foreign Language Department gives a Christmas concert each year for the community, with students and professors singing carols in five or six different languages.

“We’re trying to do more events like that that are no cost to the residents,” Eisenhauer said. “It costs the town very little to sponsor these, and it gives everybody something to do.”