Ashton Marra Published

Reconnecting McDowell Moves Forward with Teacher Housing 19 Months Later

The former Best Furniture building in downtown Welch will be the site of Renaissance Village.

Asbestos abatement and environmental clean up began Tuesday at the vacant Best Furniture Store in downtown Welch in McDowell County Tuesday, some 19 months after a project to demolish and build new housing on the site was announced.

At a ribbon cutting in August 2014, representatives of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the main partners in the Reconnecting McDowell project, said they anticipated the entire project would be complete in 18 months.

“The current schedule is the asbestos and pigeon dropping removal is happening now for the next ten days and then the Best Furniture store will be demolished and then we start construction,” Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT said Tuesday at a press conference in Charleston. 

Weingarten expects the $5.5 million Renaissance Village will be completed by September 2017.

The Village will provide affordable housing to young professionals– in particular teachers– as well as storefront space on the first floor for a coffee shop or deli in the hopes of spurring economic development in the town. 

Weingarten explained the project had been delayed for a variety of reasons- unanticipated environmental issues with both demolition and its location in a floodplain and challenges raising the private donations necessary to complete the project. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten

Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks with a participant before the Reconnecting McDowell Board meeting Tuesday.

“We want to make sure that the people who live in these apartments can pay the rent and so, just like with everything else in the Reconnecting McDowell project, we are now focused on sustainability,” Weingarten said, “and that’s why the private funding becomes so important.”

“It’s taking us longer to raise that matching money than we initially had hoped.”

Weingarten says the group still needs to raise between $500,000 and $1 million for the Renaissance Village from private donors. The project is also being funded through federal loans and grants.

Reconnecting McDowell is a partnership of the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia Board of Education, and private businesses that started in 2011. Its goal is to improve the lives of children in McDowell County by addressing issues that arise from poverty.