By Stephen Smoot
The Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority has big plans for the former Pendleton County Schools office building, both inside and out.
Almost two years ago, the Pendleton County Economic Development Authority applied to participate in the Building Resilient Economies in Coal Communities Initiative. This grant comes from a partnership between the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and the National Association of Counties.
Last week the SRRDA, as the successor organization for both the Pendleton and Grant economic development authorities, received word that both will take part in the BRECC 2024 Action Challenge.
Pendleton County may take part in the coal community restoration program through the regional development connection with Grant County through SRRDA.
The project proposal plans “to bring educational and entrepreneurial trainings” to the region “through ‘innovation hubs’ in each county seat.” The ultimate goal includes “efforts to retain our youth and grow future populations” by “attracting new residents.”
According to the award letter “teams will receive 12 months of individualized expert consultation that will result in the development of a community-specific economic development plan.”
The team includes Laura Brown and Sherry Mongold from the SRRDA office, Carl Hevener, Pendleton County Commission president, Carly Kaposy from the Grant County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Suzanne Parks-Lewis from Potomac Valley Transit Authority, and Sarah Moomau from the City of Petersburg.
Also, in a meeting last week, the SRRDA board discussed plans for the exterior of what will become the Franklin Innovation Hub. Last year, the regional development authority obtained just under $100,000 to purchase and refurbish the structure on Walnut Street across from the Pendleton County Courthouse.
The Franklin Innovation Hub will offer space for remote workers, entrepreneurs, and others requiring temporary or small scale office space. The building will also host skills building classes aimed at improving employability or business acumen.
Brown, executive director, explained that the RDA would need to hire both a commercial painter to refresh the exterior and a mural artist. She shared that both services would use grant funding to pay for costs.
She stated that “we’re working toward getting a commercial painter” with plans to start work in April. A board member asked if the group had to put out “requests for proposals.” Brown replied that the grantor did not require these for such work.
Government agencies and others often put out requests for proposals, or RFPs, as a way to send a general inquiry as to which outfits might be able to perform the work. They usually, however, are used for more significant projects.
Brown suggested that the board consider regional artists Kelson Thorne. According to the biography on his “Art Junkie” website Thorne, a Petersburg native, is “most known for creating large-scale murals and public art installations that represent the Appalachian communities, businesses, and cultures.”
Thorne’s work graces building exteriors in several towns in the area, including Marlinton and Petersburg. Brown said the three he painted for the Pocahontas County seat “were spectacular.” The mural on the innovation hub would take inspiration from Franklin’s historical streetscape and that the Pendleton County Historical Society “will pull out a photo of downtown that would” interweave with the actual facades in place.
Thorne also had suggested that the building otherwise adopt a “very modern” white exterior with black trim.