LAMENT OF THE POOR - Saving Ole 'Houner High'

(06/30/2017)

"I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn't poor, I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy. I was deprived. Then they told me deprived was a bad image. I was underprivileged. Then they told me underprivileged was overused. I was disadvantaged. I still don't have a dime. But I sure have a great vocabulary." Jules Feiffer

By Bob Weaver 2005

It is against the grain to accept being poor and West Virginians don't cotton much to outsiders exploiting their poorness.

But sometimes, poor we are.

This weekend a number of former graduates of Calhoun High School will convene for the annual all-class reunion. Most of the returnees are graduates of the old stone structure at Grantsville, the county's first high school, approved by voter's in 1915.

Thousands of graduates crossed the threshold of the old building, before it was closed in 1998.

Now, the old cut-stone monument to early education is likely facing demolition if a new buyer comes forth, the "winner" of an eBay auction.

That buyer will likely be looking to salvage the Arnoldsburg cut stone and other materials in the adjacent two buildings.

Hagan Richards, who once owned the buildings with his son Dan, told the Herald "We did everything we could to develop a business plan to use the building for housing, but the costs far exceeded our limits."

The Richards family, the second owners of the old structure, purchased the buildings in hopes of saving the old high school, he said.

They spent a considerable amount of money cleaning up the property and hiring a consultant to develop it for a housing project.

Originally, the structure was offered free to the Calhoun Commission and the Calhoun Historical Society, provided they would use the facility for the public good. Both declined, based upon a lack of resources to maintain the structure or pay the necessary insurance coverage.

Shirley Fitzwater first purchased the complex at an auction from the local school board. He was the single bidder. Fitzwater made numerous attempts to promote the use of the building and find an occupant.

A telemarketing firm told Fitzwater the county was too underdeveloped for the tastes of their company executives, including the lack of a "modern" access roads.

That company, which was being promoted by former Republican state chairman and real estate developer Chris Warner, did locate in Morgantown and Keyser, but bellied up and left the state over-night without forewarning their employees.

Strangely, Warner blamed Fitzwater for not being amiable in getting the project off the ground, when in fact the Calhoun man, and others, had gone the extra mile to try and bring jobs to the community.

Then, Richards purchased the buildings from Fitzwater.

Historic preservationist Frank Unger, who was hired by Richards as a consultant on the project, maintained "Overall, the project is very doable," contingent upon local folks stepping forward and finding $1 million for matching funds for a housing project.

Unger, writing in the Calhoun Chronicle, says, "If I were a member of your community, I would organize and rally support from all corners," indicating the problem is local bias and politics.

"I would shelve personal ambitions, differences and family histories," as if those issues are what is holding the multi-million dollar project from happening.

Unger seemed to off the mark quite a bit.

Hey, could it be as simple as greenbacks?

Mr. Unger, a thoughtful visionary, obviously has excluded the greatest fact - there is no one in these parts with investment money to help fund such an ambitious project.

Helen Morris, publisher of the Chronicle, is supporting a letter writing campaign to Hagan Richards, who has already given up on the project.

While it is nice to make statements about what should happen, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it is also important to accept some realities.

Money is scarce in Sunny Cal, and few if any philanthropists have stepped up to the plate for this and other projects.

The promise of government grants to help out is lessening, with the USA harboring a national debt the likes of which the country has never known.

There will be fewer federal dollars for rural health-care, including money for roads, schools, emergency services, water and sewage.

If we must watch our old landmark go down, acceptance of our poorness may be the key to some degree of serenity.

The good news is, Calhoun folks know how to hunker down and survive.

POSCRIPT: Since this article was published, the old school was sold again in 2008.


Hur Herald ®from Sunny Cal
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