By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Mayor Randy Amtower would like to see Mineral County join the City of Keyser, Potomac State College, and other interested entities in establishing a community and wellness center in the former Keyser High School.
Calling his proposal "a potential project that would impact everybody in the community," the mayor told the commissioners Tuesday that he has already met with PSC provost Dr. Leonard Collelli and representatives of First United Bank & Trust, which bought the building back from Morgantown businessman Kris Warner in a bankruptcy sale, to discuss the possibilities for the structure.
County commissioner Jerry Whisner also participated in that meeting.
This summer, First United notified all the remaining tenants in the former school, known as the Grand Central Business Center since it was purchased by Warner, that the building was being closed down as of Dec. 31, 2013.
Amtower's fear is that the building will sit empty and "we all know what vacant buildings breed."
Noting that the bank "is looking to get out of the real estate business," Amtower said First United has unsuccessfully tried to sell the building.
"They've even looked at razing the property and marketing the ground," he said.
Amtower noted, however, that there is a great deal of public sentiment attached to the former home of the Golden Tornado, and that "the idea, to the public, of that property being razed could cause a riot."
Noting that the current City Hall is "inadequate for what we need," and the county is always looking for additional space, Amtower said a joint venture to renovate the old school could be just what everyone is looking for.
Amtower said he can foresee using the original part of the school for Keyser's Police Department, complete with holding cells for criminals awaiting transport to a regional jail. Space could also be included for Mineral County Community Corrections, and the Mineral County Development Authority, both of which currently rent their office space, and other entities.
Amtower also talked about the Faith in Action Food Pantry, which currently pays $500 a month in rent and is still in need of more space.
The back portion of the building - actually an addition to the original mansion - could be razed for parking or utilized for other agencies.
Mentioning the Catamount Day Care Center, which has been evicted from its site at the back of the building, Amtower said their "solution is only temporary" and they would be needing a place to go again soon.
"If you could bring Catamount back in ... a day care center right beside a wellness center? That's a win-win situation," he said.
He said the possibility of a wellness center, with an indoor/outdoor pool and other recreational facilities, is of interest to the college, explaining that students look at those types of amenities when looking at potential schools.
Page 2 of 2 - Commission president Janice LaRue also noted that both the Mineral County Health Department and the Committee on Aging & Family Services have been talking about establishing a wellness center in the county for some time.
Amtower also told the commissioners he has spoken with a representative of A.U. Associates, a company that "specializes in old school renovation," and they have agreed to come to Keyser in October to tour the building.
He added quickly, however, that plans are very much in the preliminary stages.
"There are a lot of options. Right now, we're trying to see who the potential players are," he said.
"The goal now is to put together a roundtable discussion" to involve all the interested parties.
The commission designated Whisner and county coordinator Mike Bland to participate in that discussion.