Drug rehab center causes community debate

August 28, 2014 by Samuel Speciale

Community members are organizing efforts to oppose the construction of a drug rehabilitation center near Capital High School with claims that county agencies have agreed to give money to the project without voter input.

The construction project gained momentum last week when the Kanawha County Board of Education voted to donate 50 acres of property to the T-Center, a proposed residential treatment facility developed by the Kanawha Valley Fellowship Home.

While the center was discussed at only one meeting, board members and Superintendent Ron Duerring spoke about the proposal ahead of time, assistant superintendent Thomas Williams said.

The 4-0 decision was met with fierce criticism in the following days, something board President Robin Rector did not expect to happen.

She said the backlash can be owed to a lack of communication.

“People didn’t hear about this because it was the summer,” she said. “And it just so happened that pieces of this were finalized when school started and people were paying more attention.

“If I have a regret, it’s that we didn’t spend more meetings discussing this,” Rector said. “We probably could have and should have spent more time communicating what this was.”

School board officials don’t see their decision as something that warrants controversy, though.

Rector said the board saw a need in the community and decided to jump on the opportunity to make use of unused land in a positive way.

Good intentions have not swayed the opinions of parents and others who oppose the deal. Some worry the proximity of the center could harm students by bringing unwanted drug activity into the area.

Rector said she understands the concerns people have, but guarantees students will be safe because patients at the center will be on “lock down” with limited visitors privileges. While the center is across the street from Capital High, it will sit on a more secluded tract, further up the hill.

Rector also said people who suggest the center will bring drugs to Capital demean the school, as well as its students, teachers and staff.

“It’s sad that people would make a connection,” she said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Capital. This is about a piece of property owned by the board.”

Others oppose the project because the board donated the land instead of selling it to fund facility upgrades or build a football field for the school.

The land was last appraised in 2008 at nearly $500,000, but the property sat on the market for more than a decade with no buyers.

“That would have been our first choice, but the market has to be there,” Rector said. “There has to be a buyer.”

While the board didn’t lose money on the land through property taxes, Rector said donating the property was the right business decision. Because the land will be turned over to the T-Center, the county will now be able to collect taxes.

“That’s potential revenue coming back into our system.”

At their last meeting, board members were uniform in their praise for the center even though Pete Thaw chose not to vote due to a conflict of interest. His son was involved in the project development.

Members noted the center’s potential to educate youth and families afflicted by substance abuse. West Virginia has one of the highest overdose rates in the country.

The school board isn’t the only county agency to consider partnering with the T-Center.

The Kanawha County Commission was expected to pledge $200,000 to the $10 million project at its meeting Thursday, but opted at the last minute to postpone the decision until a center representative can discuss the proposal with the Capital High community.

Commissioner Dave Hardy agreed to table the motion, but said the commission will continue to work with the T-Center to raise awareness about the proposal.

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