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CARES funds sought for Ramada project

Organizers behind the effort to turn the old Ramada Inn property on Scott Avenue into a hub for social services are looking at CARES Act funding to help jump start that project.

Robert O’Neil, executive vice president and chief administrative services officer for WVU Health System, said Morgantown Community Resources Inc., a subsidiary of WVU Hospitals that currently owns the property, will apply for $3.5 million in CARES Act money.

 “We need money to do three things. We need to replace the roof. We need to replace the HVAC and we need to sprinkle the rest of the building,” O’Neil said. “We need to do those three things before we can talk about building-wide tenants in there.”

The 110,000-square-foot, four-story building with a full industrial kitchen and 10-acre property was provided to WVU Hospitals by Mark Nesselroad and the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust in early 2019 with the vision of turning it into a one-stop shop for local social services dealing with issues ranging from food insecurity and homelessness to addiction and mental illness.

One organization, the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, is currently renovating a portion of the building to house a box meal program. In June, the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust gave an additional $820,000 for that effort — $70,000 for renovations and $750,000 for the feeding program.

 If the CARES Act request falls through, O’Neil said Morgantown Community Resources will look to a business plan being put together by WVU College of Business and Economics.

 “Then we go to banks and borrow the money using the building as collateral. We would also reach out to area businesses and ask them for five year pledges toward the project. We would also reach out to the city and county for pledges,” he explained.

 O’Neil explained that is why the request went out to the city to annex the property. That annexation has been approved by Morgantown City Council, but still requires the signature of the Monongalia County Commission.

  “[The city] said it’s hard to contribute to an entity that’s not in the city,” he said. “Also, a number of agencies that might decide to move into the building in the future, they reside in the city and it would be harder for the city to give them money if they were outside the city. So when the city raised that issue, we said, ‘Well, lets annex it into the city.’ ”

While organizers work to make the vision a reality, social service agencies mull the prospect of moving some or all of their operations to Scott Avenue.

Stephen Farmer of the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust has repeatedly stated that no agency would be forced or coerced into moving into the facility.

“I think at this point we are still assessing the project and exploring whether or not it would be a positive move to advance our mission,” Bartlett Housing Solutions Executive Director Keri DeMasi said. “We definitely have not made any decisions either way.”

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