Board backs efforts by Cedar Lakes group

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Board of Education approved a resolution Wednesday in support of having the Cedar Lakes Conference Center property transferred from the board to the Cedar Lakes Foundation.

Earlier this year, Cedar Lakes in Jackson County was slated for closure when the board determined that it could no longer continue to request financial support from the Legislature to support daily operations.

The resolution solidifies a plan developed by the Cedar Lakes Foundation to reimagine the facility near Ripley. The Cedar Lakes Foundation plan transfers the property from the WVBE to the foundation.

The Cedar Lakes Foundation agreed to address personnel issues to protect current staff while transitioning toward a market-based pay scale for new employees, officials said.

The foundation has committed to develop a five-year financial plan that will lead to the self-reliance of the center and generate a savings of more than $3 million to West Virginia taxpayers, officials said.

“The WVBE, the Cedar Lakes Foundation and the entire Jackson County community recognize the economic and social value in the continued and expanded use of the Cedar Lakes Conference Center,” said WVBE President Gayle Manchin.

Cedar Lakes was established several decades ago and placed under the West Virginia Board of Education. The location is used by student groups as well as community members and offers lodging, meeting facilities and recreational facilities.

Cedar Lakes provides hotel and dormitory-style lodging, swimming, crafting courses, meeting facilities and dining services.

Cedar Lakes’ most notable event is the annual Mountain State Art and Craft Fair in July.

Karen Facemyer, president of the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair, said it was good news for everything that is trying to be accomplished at the center.

Facemyer has not seen the wording of the resolution.

Although a resolution is a way organizations can show support for something, it is an important early step in accomplishing the goals many are striving for, she said.

“It is good news,” she said. “(Having the property transferred to the control of the foundation) is what we have been aiming for. This is what everyone has been working toward.”

State Sen. Mitch B. Carmichael, R-Jackson, said when the West Virginia Education Audit recommended closing the facility, it was the people who stepped up to save the facility.

“Into this bleak set of circumstances stepped an energized constituency in support of Cedar Lakes,” Carmichael said. “Thousands of letters, phone calls, and emails have been received from concerned citizens throughout the region and beyond in recognition of the many benefits that are provided by Cedar Lakes.”

The foundation’s plan will transition Cedar Lakes from a state-operated entity to a facility that is under the direction of an independent Cedar Lakes Foundation, Carmichael said.

“This foundation will be focused on maintaining and growing Cedar Lakes,” he said. “The progress that occurs when people of good will come together to solve problems is truly inspiring. Cedar Lakes can be a template for reducing government expenditures, empowering the private sector, and providing enhanced value to our citizens. This solution is how government should work.”

Stan Hopkins, president of the Cedar Lakes Foundation, said there is still a lot of work to do, a lot of logistical and legal issues to work through before a transfer can become a reality.

They have until July 2015 to work out a deal, he said.

Before the facility is officially signed over to the Cedar Lakes Foundation, it must agree to maintain the original mission for education enrichment at the center. The transfer of property must be endorsed and approved by the governor, the Legislature, and, if necessary, the West Virginia Board of Public Works.

Around 300,000 to 400,000 people every year use the facility for a multitude of purposes, Hopkins said. People from across the country and from other countries have used the facility as well as many local citizens and school groups.

“It is an essential part of the landscape of West Virginia,” he said. “It is a place unlike any other place in West Virginia.”

Although the facility received around $1 million in funding from the state, it brought in more than $2 million from groups and events.

The foundation will be looking at a variety of funding options, from fundraisers to new programing to fund and sustain the facility.

Hopkins said there is a spirit of cooperation to making the transfer happen.

“We just have to work out the details and make this successful,” he said.