George Hohmann, Charleston Daily Mail, September 26, 2006
The University of Charleston’s board of trustees has agreed to accept The Dow Chemical Co.’s gift of the office tower in South Charleston known as Building 82, university President Ed Welch said.
“We’re extraordinarily grateful to Dow Chemical for making the offer of what they call Building 82 and some 6 1/2 acres surrounding it in South Charleston,” Welch said. “The board of trustees decided at their meeting on Friday that we would move forward on accepting their generous offer, and we will take possession of the property as soon as the legal work can be completed.”
Dow announced in December it would give the university the 11-story office tower. The university had said it wanted to turn the brick building on MacCorkle Avenue into living quarters for about 100 of the graduate students who will attend the university’s new pharmacy school.
But Welch said Monday the university is studying all of its options.
It was reported last week that enrollment at the university is at a 20-year high. “The university obviously is in a period of growth,” Welch said. “We have wonderful enrollment news. It’s gratifying people are taking notice. While we’re in a period of growth and expanding programs, having this additional site to add to the main campus and the Watt Powell Park location gives us alternatives as we plan for the future.
“Over the next six to 12 months we will decide, definitely, how we can best use the South Charleston property for the benefit of the university.
“We thought we would do graduate housing,” he said. “We’re now thinking that’s not the only use or perhaps the best use, so we’re open to other alternatives as well. We’re going to explore what those are.
“We have said publicly we’re exploring a second graduate professional school,” Welch said. “South Charleston could be the location for that graduate professional school. Leasing out a part of the building is a possibility. Lots of uses are options. At this point I don’t want to rule in or out any particular one.”
UC took nine months to decide whether to accept the gift.
“We wanted to make sure we thoroughly understood the site and what was there,” Welch said.
“We wanted to be prudent in regard to our environmental research, how the property had been used, the current state of the building. That includes everything from the underground water to the air quality to the quality of the land and soil. We wanted to be prudent about what we did and we have been.”
It also took time to estimate renovation costs “because we know there are some things we would have to invest in,” such as the heating and cooling system, Welch said. “So carrying out that study of what it would cost to utilize the building was another facet of the work we needed to do.”
Welch said $9 million to $10 million is the high end of renovation cost estimates, “if we wanted to renovate it for housing. Other uses are not as intensive because you don’t need to have individually controlled air temperature in every unit or put in bathrooms. That’s part of the calculus of deciding what we do next.”
The asbestos report on the building “turned out more positively than we forecast,” he said. “There is some in the floor tiles, for instance, but that’s typical of a building that age.”
The city of South Charleston has expressed an interest in acquiring the land that is behind the building. Welch said his comment about exploring all options applies to both the building and the land.
“We’ve been spending most of our time deciding whether accepting the gift is what we wanted to do,” he said. “Now that we’ve made that judgment, we can turn our attention to how to best utilize the property.”
Welch said that when the university signed a letter of intent with Dow Chemical in February, “we had worked out most of the details of the agreement. So there are just a couple of details to be discussed. We forecast we will have a very positive outcome.”
The details of the agreement will remain confidential, he said.
Welch said Allan Fowler, the head of Dow Chemical’s West Virginia operations, was notified of the trustees’ decision over the weekend and that he and Fowler talked about it on Monday.
Fowler said Monday afternoon, “They were doing their due diligence and of course we had completed our due diligence even before the offer. We were glad to hear their due diligence was successful and that they want to proceed to the negotiation.
“As Ed said, we have a few loose ends to clear up. We’ll be doing that over the next several weeks. Hopefully that will lead to the culmination of the donation.”
Welch said the university’s faculty and staff were to be told of the trustees’ decision today.
Dow Chemical has valued the gift at $7 million, although the property was valued at $4.2 million on the tax rolls. The building, constructed in 1948, has been mostly vacant for about two years. Dow still occupies about one-half of one floor in the building.
Contact writer George Hohmann at 348-4836.