Cumberland Times-News

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September 25, 2013

Old Keyser High could become wellness center

Mayor requests roundtable meeting about repurposing 40,000-square-foot building

KEYSER, W.Va. — Keyser Mayor Randy Amtower approached the Mineral County Commission during its public meeting  Tuesday, asking the officials to appoint representatives to partake in a roundtable meeting on the future of the Grand Central Business Center. Commissioner Jerry Whisner and Mike Bland, county coordinator, agreed to represent the county.

Amtower is worried about the building sitting vacant and has suggested partnering with Potomac State College to build a community wellness center in the former Keyser High School on Grand Central Drive.

“This is not a win for any one person. There is not a person in a 50-mile radius from here that couldn’t benefit for that facility in one form or another,” said Amtower. “We’re at the point now where I’ve made all the contacts of potential design, potential funding. Now I need to get all the players to the table, everybody that has an interest and we need to start cataloging everybody’s needs.”

Amtower met with Leonard Colelli, PSC provost, Whisner and First United Bank & Trust, which owns the building, to discuss the possibility of a wellness center.

“The bank is very interested in getting out of the real estate business. They are getting to the point where they have to do something with this property,” said Amtower. “The college was initially offered this building and they rejected the offer.”

This is too big of a project for one entity to undertake, said Amtower.

He suggested possibly moving City Hall, the Keyser Police Department, Faith in Action food pantry, Community Corrections and other entities into the building. The county commission rents space for Community Corrections, the Mineral County Development Authority and for parole, according to Amtower.

“The county has rented space to the point where you have bought that building twice now,” said Amtower. “Why not look at something to get all of our entities together and fund one facility as a group partnership.”

First United has offered a substantial discount in price for their partnership role in the project, according to Amtower.

“They have looked at one option of razing the property and marketing the ground,” said Amtower. “They understand that building comes with a lot of history and the idea to the public of that building being razed might cause a riot. It would be a huge black eye on the bank and they foresee that and would like to avoid that if there is some way to preserve it.”

Coldwell Banker lists the 40,000-square-foot building for $1.5 million. The 1909 building has undergone massive renovations and is now a mixed-use business and residential building, according to the Coldwell Banker website.

Commission president Janice LaRue suggested including Scott Mallery, director of Mineral County Aging & Family Services, in the conversation. The agency is looking to build a new multipurpose senior center. Property on New Creek Drive located behind BB&T Bank has been purchased but hasn’t held any bids, according to LaRue.

“A wellness center and a senior center in the same place would be ideal,” said LaRue.

A wellness center  would provide the city with a swimming pool and would help alleviate the financial burden of operating the John R. Shelton swimming pool, noted Amtower.

“No mayor and council wants to be known as the mayor and council that closed the John R. Shelton swimming pool,” said Amtower.

One option is razing a portion of the building from the main building back, then building a residence hall for PSC there, according to Amtower.

Amtower has looked into the possibility of also forming a partnership with West Virginia University Hospitals, which purchased Potomac Valley Hospital.

“It may be of interest to them to partner into something like this where they could have a rehab center,” said Amtower.

Amtower spoke with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and learned of a Kentucky developer that specializes in old school renovations and saw the work they performed at the First Ward School in Elkins.

“It’s really amazing what they did with this thing,” said Amtower. “I think we can make this happen.”

The renovation was done for $3.4 million  but Amtower estimates that it would be cheaper to renovate Grand Central. The firm, AU Associates, will visit Keyser in October to go through the building, according to Amtower.

Amtower also spoke with Susan Pierce, senior archeologist with the Historical Preservation Office in Charleston, and she is doing research on the building.

Grand Central tenants have to be out of the building by Dec. 31, according to a letter dated June 24 from Frederick A. Thayer, First United Bank & Trust vice president.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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