[BECKLEY, W. VA.] Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III of the Circuit Court of Raleigh County has granted the interpleader motion filed by the New River Community and Technical College Foundation in the case involving a contested $1 million given to the college by the County Commission to renovate a swimming pool in the Arts and Science Building located on the Greenbrier Valley Campus in Lewisburg, W. Va. The funds were being held by the New River CTC Foundation as the college attempted to reach a settlement in the case.
In a hearing held on Thursday, June 26, Judge Kirkpatrick granted the Foundation's motion for leave to deposit the contested funds with the Court, and he discharged the Foundation from any further liability with regard to those funds.
"Although I had hoped that the college and the County Commission would be able to reach a mutually acceptable settlement concerning the funds, they were not able to do so," stated Robert Richardson, counsel for the Foundation.
"I think this is a positive development for New River CTC, according to Assistant Attorney General Brian Lutz, who is representing the college in a lawsuit filed by the County Commission against the college subsequent to the interpleader filing. "The disputed funds will be secure until settlement or trial. This ruling weakens the Commission's argument that these hotel-motel tax funds cannot be used to pay damages or pay out a settlement in this case. My argument on this point is that the hotel-motel tax funds can be used for an authorized purpose – such as promotion of the fine arts – and if the Commissioners were truly interested in settlement, a portion of these funds could be used as payment. If a settlement is reached prior to trial, it's likely the Court can now 'split' these funds between the two parties, which is what we have been proposing all along."
Approximately six years ago the Greenbrier County Commission approached New River Community and Technical College requesting assistance in renovating the swimming pool located in the former student activities building of Greenbrier College for use as a public facility for the citizens of Greenbrier County. The College agreed to lease 9,500 square feet of the building to the Greenbrier County Commission for $1 per year to accommodate this request.
Just as work on the project was starting, a group of citizens filed a suit contending that hotel-motel tax could not lawfully expended for the pool because the building was not owned by the county. The judge in that case ruled for the plaintiffs, and the college immediately offered to deed the portion of the building containing the pool to the county so that the funds could be legally expended. The County Commission turned down this offer, and on July 10, 2013, cancelled the lease with New River, and it expired at the end of the required 30-day period, August 31, 2013.
Although renovations were never undertaken in the pool portion of the building, New River CTC had already begun renovating the college's portion of the building before the controversy arose. The college had already incurred expenses for planning, architectural design and upgrades of the electrical system in anticipation that the pool would be renovated and operated by the County as outlined in the lease agreement. The County Commission has demanded return of all the funds, but the college has declined to do so until an equitable settlement can be reached.
"This situation is made all the more unfortunate because we are not able to occupy our beautifully renovated building because we do not have the funds to bring the pool portion up to fire code. I am still hopeful that we can reach a settlement with the County Commission," stated New River CTC President L. Marshall Washington. "The college is ready to negotiate in good faith if the Commission is willing to do likewise."