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West Virginia Board Rejects Bluefield State College Proposal for Campus in Wheeling

State officials on Thursday nixed a plan by Bluefield State College to establish a campus on the former Ohio Valley Medical Center property in Wheeling. File Photo

WHEELING — Members of the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education on Thursday unanimously rejected Bluefield State College’s request to establish a campus in Wheeling and offer three engineering-based associate degree programs.

No one from Bluefield State was in attendance during Thursday’s proceedings in Charleston, either in person or via phone.

After discussing the proposal, Councilman Bill Baker moved to table the matter. However, upon further discussion and seeing that Bluefield had no representative present to answer questions, Council Vice Chairman Bob Brown proposed that the request from Bluefield be rejected, at which time Baker withdrew his motion to table, and the council voted unanimously to reject the request.

After the decision, an official from Bluefield State said that college officials were not made aware that the proposal was slated to appear on the agenda until Thursday, the day of the meeting. However, Community and Technical College officials provided a number of pieces of correspondence between Corley Dennison, the council’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Bluefield State officials in the weeks leading up to the meeting that showed the matter was slated to be heard on June 3.

The proposal to bring a new Engineering and Manufacturing Center to Wheeling was initially met with enthusiasm early this year among city leaders, who had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Bluefield State with the intention of leasing the college space at the former Ohio Valley Medical Center campus.

However, the memorandum between the city and the Mercer County-based Bluefield led to a public firestorm after presidents of three local institutions — West Virginia Northern Community College, Wheeling University and West Liberty University — spoke out against the actions taken to bring another institution of higher learning into the local market.

Dr. Daniel Mosser, president of WVNCC, spoke on behalf of the local colleges and their presidents during an open Wheeling City Council meeting in March, and publicly lambasted city officials for their efforts to bring a new Bluefield State College campus to their backyard.

Bluefield officials have maintained their interest in the Wheeling market and the Upper Ohio Valley is driven by a need for their accredited engineering programs, as indicated by the local business community, area students and other market data. In fact, in the packet included in their 85-page application to the council, Bluefield included letters of support for their plan to offer training programs in the Wheeling area from an array of local business and manufacturing employers, including American Plate Glass, Kalkreuth Roofing and Sheet Metal, H.E Neumann Co., Silgan Plastics, Technocap LLC, Tunnel Ridge and Warwood Tool Co.

However, the council’s decision to nix Bluefield’s proposal focused on a lack of demonstrated workforce demand for the proposed programs. An Emsi labor market analysis showed that there were approximately 100 related engineering jobs in Ohio County with only about seven openings per year. The projected job growth in engineering job demand nationwide between now and 2026 was about 0.3 percent, and the projected engineering-related job growth in the Northern Panhandle was 0 percent for Ohio and Hancock counties and -4 percent for Marshall County.

During the state meeting Thursday, Mosser spoke on behalf of WVNCC. Afterward, he issued a brief statement on the council’s denial.

“We are pleased with the decision by the CTCS today,” Mosser said.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott on Thursday afternoon said he was not aware that the state hearing took place, but noted that city leaders have always known that none of this would happen without the blessing of the state’s higher education regulators. Elliott said the memorandum of understanding with Bluefield State was for a lease agreement, and the city’s focus has been to move the buildings on the OVMC property back into the private sector.

“We have had considerable interest in the OVMC campus,” Elliot said. “There are a number of parties in the due diligence phase with their proposals at this time. Of three interested parties, two of those parties are interested in acquiring most of the buildings on campus, and one party is interested in purchasing one or two buildings.”

While city leaders are not disclosing the parties that are showing an interest in OVMC, officials indicated that they are all “legitimate” contenders that would bring a significant investment into the area, allowing the city to move the property back into the hands of the private sector and eliminated the need for the city to serve as a landlord.

On Friday, West Liberty University also issued a statement in response to Thursday’s decision by the state board.

“West Liberty University is pleased that the process has been followed and the governing body that guides the community colleges in the state of West Virginia deems that the suggested Bluefield State College expansion into downtown Wheeling is not necessary or desirable. The council’s unanimous decision speaks volumes,” said Dr. W. Franklin Evans, WLU president.

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