WVU: Like a Thief in the Night

“DETERMINING A SITE FOR THEM”

WVU is trying to steal the green school, profit off it, and put it where it wants it.

Too harsh? Well, let’s take a look.

WVU is a key mover in allowing the green school to not be placed in the well-situated neighborhoods of Woodburn or Jerome Park. After all, WVU is acting to allow the school to be sited, for a big chunk of change, on and along its lands, somewhat in the area of where the Mon Schools’ administration has been pushing to site the school for a very long time.

WVU – as in, the administration. Not the professors. A lot of professors have actively worked against locating the green school on WVU land.

But the WVU administration, led by Vice President of Administration and Finance, Narvel Weese, has actively steered the Monongalia County School District’s green school onto a high-traffic, undermined 7 acre, $2.75 million strip of WVU land at the intersection of route 705 and 119, on the Mileground: a major gateway to big tracts of WVU land on both sides of the road, and a major gateway also, a main thoroughfare, to WVU football games. How wonderful for WVU to have a beautiful new green elementary school there, and how lousy for the children and the taxpayers (as the New Woodburn Community School Initiative has documented in ongoing detail).

This was not the original preferred spot of even the Monongalia Schools administration – let alone of the affected schools communities and the larger community. A far, far cry from it.

According to Shannon Mundell, WVU’s Director of Real Estate Services, Mon Schools’ superintendent Frank Devono’s preferred location “was originally…the area across from Damon’s” – down route 705 from the Mileground.

WVU refused to sell that land.

Mundell “suggested to [Devono] the Armory property” on the Mileground just in front of the end of WVU land, where sits a building and a patch of land that the city has long been set to acquire from the Army – but according to Devono (on August 17, 2009), by way of talking with City Manager Dan Boroff:

“…the city has a design on what they hope to do with that building and property.”

Whatever that “design” may be, City Manager Boroff should make it public knowledge. The City needs to sell that land for $4 million to pay for developing access to and development of a commercial park (also to house the Armory relocation) on the east side of the airport.

In any case, by October 2, Devono writes again to WVU’s Mundell:

“…to see if any progress has been made concerning property on the mile ground that could be used for a new school for the Monongalia County Board of Education. I would like to talk with you or someone that can help the school system place a new energy efficient school in that area…. I am trying to secure funding from the SBA….”

On October 14, WVU VP Narvel Weese writes to Mundell:

“I think we need to give this a good hard look. If we can find property that does not impact our long term strategic need, then we should consider selling it [to] the BOE.”

At 6:01 PM, October 14, Narvel made that above reply to Mundell in response to her telling him at 3:26 PM that:

“Had a brief discussion with Mr. Devono regarding WVU’s property near and around the Mileground. He [Devono] is needing approximately 8-10 acres (10 preferred for bus turnaround). …

“Confidentially, the overflow from North [elementary] and [the entire student body of] Woodburn elementary will be placed in this school.”

Jumping ahead five months, on March 11, 2010, Narvel Weese writes to Russell Dean, the Senior Associate Provost for Academic Affairs at WVU:

“We need to talk about the attached.”

[Presumably, “the attached” was the site review analysis for the green school, emailed that day by Williamson & Shriver, an architectural firm hired by Mon Schools to put together a survey that asked people to rank three sites using rankings similar to the UHS siting…the current Woodburn site, the old UHS site, and the site described only as “near or along the Mileground.” The “analysis” was to be completed and returned to the architect by close of business the next day.]

Vice President Narvel Weese adds in that March 11 email to Provost Russell Dean:

“I would like to keep the University out of the neighborhood school debate.”

Too late, Narvel!

Remember?! WVU already played a huge hand in determining what could be debated in the first place, by refusing to consider sale of Devono’s preferred WVU land site. And WVU continued to control a big part of the “debate” by telling Mon Schools it could site the school here, here…and here, but not there, there…and there. And by not cluing the public in to these discussions. Thanks.

For just one example, WVU is on record as willing to sell other sites, including one “that is all hillside” near 119.

“Works for me,” writes Narvel.

Unfortunately, this land works for no one else. The truly good land, you see, is not for sale. And WVU has no intention of “debating” anyone.

By enabling, even encouraging, a land sale deal with the BOE, WVU had long since already entered the “debate” – for all practical intents and purposes, mere rhetoric aside – on the side of the Mon Schools administration, which was doing everything in its power not to site the green school on revitalized Woodburn neighborhood grounds, nor to site it most anywhere else.

Thanks Narvel! for “keep[ing] the University out” of it, out of “the neighborhood school debate.” In fact, you and WVU clearly played a big part in shaping the ground rules of the debate.

The Weese/WVU position tightened as time when on, as the debate intensified. For example, Weese responded to my April 26 email by writing:

“Tony [Christini], … While I am supportive of your position to maintain a Woodburn neighborhood school, the University would encourage you to work with the [Monongalia] Board of Education. …  …best of luck as you pursue your goal maintaining a school in the Woodburn neighborhood.”

Then things changed, if only in rhetoric. To my May 21 email, Weese wrote:

“While I am supportive of your position, the University would encourage you to work with the Monongalia Board of Education. …best of luck as you pursue your agenda.”

Woodburn neighborhood was disappeared. In more ways than one.

But things had changed rhetorically and scarcely otherwise, since by both dates, Narvel Weese had already signed off on selling land to the BOE.

On March 16, five short days after Weese emailed Russell Dean about keeping out of “the neighborhood school debate,” Weese signed a letter expressing WVU’s “interest to sell property to the Board of Education”:

Dear Mr. Devono,

The purpose of this letter is to express West Virginia University’s interest to sell at fair market value approximately seven (7) acres of real property to the Board of Educadtion of Monongalia County Schools for an elementary school site.

This letter is not considered binding to either party, and the potential sale of real property is contingent upon the following: (i) agreement of location and purchase price, (ii) the approval by the west Virginia University Board of Governors, (iii) the approval by the Board of Education of Monongalia County Schools, (iv) approval of funding for the school site, and (v) the execution of a mutually agreeable acquisition document.

Sincerely,

Narvel G. Weese, Jr. …

In other words: Done deal. Debate over! Deal done by WVU. The “neighborhood school debate” crushed by WVU handing Mon Schools the ultimate trump card: its land, for a pretty penny. WVU gets paid millions by the local public to locate  a cutting-edge, pricey green school at a major gateway to its lands and stadium!

March 16, WVU VP Weese to WVU Director Mundell:

“The letter is signed. Next steps?”

Mundell responding to Weese:

“… The next step is determining a site for them. …”

As if there remained some mystery.

That’s how WVU VP Narvel Weese and WVU call the shots.

Meanwhile the Mon Schools administration and school board are grateful to be allowed to hand over millions of dollars of local public funds for land that is undermined and that Mon Schools does not need.

Narvel Weese signs the letter for WVU by 3:38 PM, Tuesday, March 16.

Less than three hours later, at 6:05 Mon School Board President Nancy Walker convenes a special BOE meeting to disclose to the public, for the very first time, after refusing to do so for months, the exact location of the Mon Schools officials’ preferred school site, a site under pursuit in total secret from the public for 7 months. So much for fair and appropriate “debating.”

WVU played its silent role.

All of which goes to show that both the WVU and Mon Schools should be under constant FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, in all matters public.

On April 26, in response to WVU Faculty Senate Chair Nigel Clark’s query, Weese responds (the opening is redacted by WVU):

“————————————————————— Nothing is finalized on the sale of the Mileground property to the Mon County Schools. At this point, we have agreed to discuss the Mileground site as well as other sites. We have had the property appraised and will advertise the property for sale. Any sale of the [Mileground] property will require WVU BOG [Board of Governors] approval. The Woodburn group has tried to pull us into the location debate and we are trying hard to stay out of it. In the end the Mon County School board needs to determine what is in the best [interest?] of the school system. It is my opinion, at least at this point, that we let the school board determine what is best for the school system. If our property is chosen, then we will need to determine if we can agree on a price and if the BOG is willing to approve the transactions. …”

For some very, very unclear reason, Nigel Clark’s query is essentially redacted. Clark’s note to Weese is released via FOIA request in the following form:

“or similar that covers this???

“——————————————-

“N.

“Nigel N. Clark …”

Ready for a humor break? April 29 email from Shannon Mundell:

“Narvel and Joe,

“Just wanted to send this to you for informational purposes. Protest will be tomorrow from 3-6 pm on the corner of the Mileground and 705.

“Shannon”

Weese replies:

“Are you planning on participating? Heads up — Public safety should be there around 5:00 to arrest the trespassers.

“Narvel

“Just kidding.”

Actually, “public safety,” better known as the police, arrived at 2:30 and spoke with those who were beginning to set up.

Mr. Weese himself should have shown up to air WVU’s part in the “debate” in the open. We would not even have asked the police to arrest him for attempting to strong-arm the public, in collaboration with Mon Schools.

Not kidding!

May 11, Weese to Mundell:

“Good news on the  appraisal. With the latest numbers, how much do you think we can generate from the sale of the entire property?”

May 21, Mundell to Weese:

“With the latest numbers on the appraisals, we could potentially sell both parcels for a total of ———- depending on the BOE’s appraisal numbers. …”

So, now, in fuller light, we can reconsider our opening statement that WVU is trying to steal the green school, profit off it, and put it where it wants it.

Steal? However legal the theft, it is what it is. The school is in the process of being lifted from the communities, at major local public expense, to be sited at a main WVU gateway, right where WVU wants it. (Not to mention in the general vicinity of land baron developments and investments.)

Throughout the course of these dealings, WVU has refused to “debate” – “tried hard to stay out of” – that is engage – the communities in their deep concerns about the inappropriate nature of the siting process and of the inappropriate nature of the site itself for the children (remember them?), for the affected school communities, for the City of Morgantown, for commuters and commercial traffic, and for the county and region at large.

The deal looks good for WVU and land baron developers. And for few others.

So it is that WVU has been at best a lousy community partner in this whole deal ongoing. Thus, the WVU Board of Governors has a responsibility to disallow the sale of land. WVU President Jim Clements has a responsibility to disallow the sale.

The green school siting process needs to be started anew. It needs to be conducted in full public view, with appropriate public knowledge, and appropriate public participation. Otherwise, the siting process remains illegitimate, a betrayal of the public, of the children, and a scandal perpetrated in large part by Mon Schools and West Virginia University. WVU President Jim Clements should step in and give a good hard look at the full nature and consequences of the actions of not only WVU but Mon Schools as well.

Narvel Weese writes that “The University views the location of the new school as an issue for the Monongalia Board of Education and the community at large.” Unfortunately, “the community at large” was neither seriously nor appropriately engaged by Mon Schools nor by WVU. On the contrary. WVU has evaded, actively evaded, its responsibilities to the community at large, working very much with Mon Schools like a thief in the night. Like thieves in the night.

“Public safety,” better known as WVU President Jim Clements and/or the WVU Board of Governors, needs to step in and halt the current process, so that an appropriate process can finally begin.

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