The Morgan County Commission and the Economic Development Authority will hold a joint special meeting on Tuesday September 1, 2020 at 4 p.m to discuss a drug rehabilitation corporation’s letter of intent to purchase the Old Bath High School property at 187 Green Street in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. (The notice of the meeting that was posted on the Commission’s website was changed from “Special Emergency Meeting Agenda” to “Special Meeting Amended Agenda.”)
The 3.2 acre lot which houses the building that recently was home to the Morgan County Boys & Girls Club, a skateboard park and ball fields, is on sale for $300,000. But some familiar with the building say that it would take perhaps a $1 million or more to renovate and remediate the building, which has significant asbestos and underground heating oil tank issues.
Word of the proposed sale triggered a debate on-line about the merits of putting a drug rehab facility in the middle of Berkeley Springs, a tourist destination.
Economic Development Authority President Daryl Cowles took to Facebook and, without revealing anything about the potential buyer, defended the proposed sale.
“Berkeley Springs has a long history and is known for healing, health and wellness, mineral spring waters, massage and spa treatments, and homeopathic medicine,” Cowles wrote. “We have long been a destination for those seeking treatment and recovery and relief – as far back as the Native American days.”
“In the 1930’s a treatment and recovery facility was built on the hill above Berkeley Springs – The Pines Home for Crippled Children – during the polio outbreak. And President Franklin D Roosevelt even visited here. We have clean air, clean water, and this is a good place for recovery. I can’t discuss any details of a possible real estate transaction. But I know the citizens serving on the Economic Development Authority board are great people with meaningful questions, and a history of good decisions.”
Jeanne Mozier, the driving force behind Travel Berkeley Springs and the local Chamber of Commerce, was taken aback by the statement from Cowles.
“I have to admit Daryl Cowles that it takes some adjusting to my thinking to read you extolling the healing history and current industry after years of your seeming to disdain it,” Mozier wrote in response. “Amazing how self interest can be enlightening.”
Morgan County Commissioner Sean Forney sits on the Economic Development Authority.
Forney says he knows who the proposed buyer is but can’t say who it is “because we discussed it in executive session.”
Will the buyer be revealed tomorrow?
“I don’t know that,” Forney said.
“This just happened within the past week,” Forney said. “We’re not going to rush into anything. The County Commissioner and the Economic Development Authority may want to do their due diligence. Somebody on the EDA board may want there to be a period for public input. All of that will be considered.”
“Our EDA board is full of talented, intelligent and compassionate people who want to make sure that whoever the prospect is will be a good fit,” Forney said. “There are not going to be any backroom deals or closed meetings as they say on social media.”
Forney said there is time for public comment on tomorrow’s agenda.
“I don’t think anybody wants to rush into anything,” Forney said. “The EDA board can decide whatever the board wants to do. But you have people from all different aspects of Morgan County involved in the Economic Development Authority. You have to weigh the pros and cons for anything that goes on with that property.”
“Would we like to sell the property? Absolutely. But we want to make sure it’s a good fit for our community.”
“I trust the people on our board to make an educated decision and not make a decision willy nilly,” Forney said.
As the owner of an insurance business in Berkeley Springs, what are your thoughts on having a drug rehab facility in the middle of a tourist town?
“I cannot comment on that,” Forney said. “I take whatever we do in executive sessions seriously. Whatever decision the board makes as a whole will be a decision they don’t take lightly. They are going to make sure they are doing their due diligence.”
Mozier is skeptical.
“Once again, all these crucial questions about a facility that is more significant than a routine business are not being addressed in any public discussion,” Mozier said. “This is being treated by EDA as just a real estate deal which is not what it is. If it is suddenly an urgent issue to have a residential rehab facility in Morgan County then perhaps there should be extensive discussion as to where and how and what. That has not happened.”