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Gee tells lawmakers Reynolds Hall is ‘laboratory for creative thinking’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University got a chance Monday to show off its latest state-of-the-art building to state lawmakers with President Gordon Gee leading the tour of Reynolds Hall.

The building, located along Beechurst Avenue in Morgantown where Stansbury Hall used to be, is the new home of the John Chambers School of Business and Economics. Students are expected to begin taking classes there in the fall.

Gee told lawmakers in Morgantown for monthly interim committee meetings that Reynolds Hall is a vision of what the future of business and education will look like.

“This facility is a laboratory for creative thinking,” Gee said. “It’s not a building, we do not build buildings at our university, we build ideas and turn them into reality.”

Gordon Gee

The facility has a 4,000-square feet of collaborative workspace, 50 interview/conference rooms, a recreation center, cafe/dining area and is connected to the Mon River Rail Trail.

Some highlights of the building design are the Hayhurst Ideation Hub- a room supported by a single pillar with a capacity of 66 where students can brainstorm or make a formal business plan presentation. The Holyman Social Stairwell transforms getting from one floor to another by adding collaborative spaces similar to Googleplex’s social stairs. The Roll Capital Markets Center is equipped with stock tickers, Bloomberg terminals that expose students to real-time financial data.

Josh Hall

Chambers B&E Dean Josh Hall said they are putting students into an interactive business environment that encourages innovative thinking and problem solving. A current student was able to tour the building and compared the experience it will offer to her internship with a Fortune 500 accounting firm.

“I’ve done two internships with E&Y (Ernst & Young Global) and it feels like a business campus like you’re at Google or Apple,” Hall said. “You’re going to spend a lot of time there because there you want to spend a lot of time there.”

Throughout the building and program there are pathways for businesses to cross with students to provide as genuine experience as possible. Businesses can also provide input that will enable course offerings to change slightly to meet industry needs or standards.

“Expose them to what to what the cutting edge is in global supply chain, in digital marketing and cyber security and let them see that first hand,” Hall said.

The building is named after Bob and Laura Reynolds and competed with no taxpayer dollars. Bob Reynolds is the president and CEO of Putnam Investments and president of Putnam Funds and holds a B.S. in Business Administration, Finance from WVU, and an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration. .

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker

“It’s about the investment we’re really making in the future of West Virginia because it’s about business, business, business connections and the world that comes from that,” Gee said.

State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker addressed lawmakers in the 300-seat auditorium telling them last year the number of seniors enrolling in college was 46% down 2% from the previous year. She said the building is an example of innovative ways to get high school seniors interested in attending college.

“What WVU is doing with this space is really thinking about how to outreach to the business community and how to really partner with them and how to provide opportunities to their students to apply what they’re learning, not just in a classroom, but to apply it in a work experience so they can be successful when they go into the job market,” Tucker said.

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Protesters ask Manchin to end the filibuster; several arrested after blocking Charleston street

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Around two dozen people rallied and marched in the streets of downtown Charleston on Monday, asking U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to end the filibuster among other issues.

The protesters ended the march by sitting across Virginia Street East near the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse blocking traffic while chanting “End the filibuster, save America.” Around a half dozen of those protesters were arrested by Charleston Police officers for blocking traffic.

Maria Gunnoe, a protester from Boone County told MetroNews that her group believes Manchin is not representing the people of West Virginia.

“The majority want to end the filibuster, the majority wants voting rights and the majority wants reproductive rights. So it’s standing in the way of many things right now,” she said.

“I think that Joe Manchin needs to understand that he is not West Virginia. We are West Virginia. West Virginia’s people are West Virginia.”

On May 11, Manchin was the lone Democrat to vote against a measure guaranteeing abortion rights — the Women’s Health Protection Act. The vote came after a draft Supreme Court opinion signaling that justices will overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision recognizing a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

The split Senate needed 60 votes to move the measure forward; Manchin has opposed removing the filibuster, as MetroNews previously reported.

Gunnoe said taking away abortion rights is dangerous for women’s healthcare.

“There have been many people throughout my life that have enjoyed the benefits of Roe v. Wade. not only abortion but planned parenthood and many issues surrounding women’s reproductive health,” Gunnoe said.

She added only women should decide what to do on this issue.

“Men often don’t understand the needs for an abortion or the needs for reproductive healthcare. Men often don’t understand that and men should not be at the table when it comes to weighing in on that,” Gunnoe said.

The march began at Slack Plaza where protesters held a rally before walking.

Manchin is currently in Davos, Switzerland taking part in the World Economic Forum.

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Lawmakers continue examining how to best shape Department of Health and Human Resources

Members of the state Legislature continued examining the structure of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, getting under the hood of the enormous agency prior to a possible reorganization.

Cindy Beane

Cindy Beane, commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau for Medical Services, spoke before lawmakers Monday afternoon during interim meetings in Morgantown. She appeared before the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability. Generally, that bureau oversees the Medicaid program in West Virginia.

Beane spent about an hour describing the organization’s structure and hierarchy. Some of her discussion got into the number of employees and vacancies over recent years for the bureau. And she provided information about the agency’s budget of state and federal dollars.

She noted that lawmakers asked in advance, “Is there duplication and overlap within the functions of what you do and the different bureaus within the department?”

Her answer: “It’s not so much duplication and overlap as more of a partnership.” For example, she said, the Bureau for Family Assistance processes applications for services like Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “So it’s kind of a one-stop shop for a constituent who is in need of Medicaid services.”

Another question posed by lawmakers was, “Does the Bureau recommend that we continue Medicaid and its bureaus, or should anything be consolidated or terminated?”

“I feel of course that we should continue the Medicaid program,” Beane responded. “Then, with regards to consolidated or terminated — with consolidation, it is moreso partnerships. I think you’ll see between the MOUs (memorandums of understanding) and the partnerships, the Medicaid program partners with quite a few other bureaus within the department. And with regard to termination, we do not feel that needs to happen.”

Lawmakers during the regular legislative session kicked off an examination of how DHHR could be more efficient and responsive. A bipartisan coalition of state legislators passed a bill during the most recent regular session to divide the agency into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources.

They said experience had taught them the state’s largest agency is just too unwieldy to get a handle on its operations or finances.

Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the bill, saying a restructuring needs a longer, more careful examination.

“So I am vetoing this bill,” Justice announced then. “But I am also going to engage with national experts and industry leaders to coordinate and complete a top-to-bottom review of the DHHR, so that we may clearly identify its issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies.

“We will work to develop a plan to address any and all problems, which may very well require a full reorganization of the agency. But we will do so in an effective and efficient way, so we can make sure there is no lapse in any vital support or services for the West Virginians who rely on the DHHR.”

Last week, state officials opened bids from two national consulting firms vying to head up the top-to-bottom review of DHHR.

West Virginia received applications for that job from McChrystal Group, named for former U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and DHG Healthcare, a subsidiary of Dixon Hughes Goodman.

The two firms that applied each touted their expertise and track records to be able to handle that job over a 17-week period.

Secretary Bill Crouch

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch last month told legislators that he will support the review and its findings.

“I want to make it clear that regardless of what that recommendation is, I’m supportive,” he said. “I have no reason not to be. The whole idea is to improve the services to the State of West Virginia, to improve the services to the people of West Virginia.”

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US House Ethics Committee furthering Mooney review following new allegations, including Aruba trip

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics is furthering its review of alleged ethics violations by Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., after receiving new allegations, including a family trip to Aruba covered by a company tied to the congressman.

The committee extended the review after receiving a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics in December 2021.

U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. (File)

According to the Office of Congressional Ethics, Mooney’s ties with HSP Direct LLC have raised ethical questions; the company allegedly paid for a family vacation to the Ritz-Carlton in Aruba. Mooney, his family and his campaign and congressional staff also are accused of using a Washington, D.C. home associated with HSP Direct for free, in which the residence was used for “lodging, workspace, and to host events.”

The office also alleges Mooney “routinely diverted official resources and staff time away from his constituents and official duties in favor of his and his family’s personal needs and sometimes for campaign activities.” Staff were rarely compensated for their time.

Two former staffers also told the Office of Congressional Ethics that Mooney “tampered with or withheld documents.” As the office attempted to investigate the claims, Mooney refused to cooperate in the inquiry.

“However, evidence and testimony indicate that Rep. Mooney may have offered false testimony and altered his calendar in order to conceal wrongdoing,” the office states.

The release of the report comes nearly two weeks after Mooney defeated Rep. David McKinley in the Republican primary for West Virginia’s new 2nd Congressional District. Mooney defeated McKinley 54.2% to 35.6%.

This is a developing story.

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National Safe Boating Week leads up to Memorial Day weekend

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This week leading up to Memorial Day weekend is National Safe Boating week. The West Virginia Natural Resources Police have stepped up patrols this week on the waters of West Virginia to engage boaters about safety on the water.

Captain Ed Goodson of the NRP said the biggest issue they deal with is life jackets on youngsters. Nothing will get the attention of law enforcement faster than a kid on a boat without a life jacket when the boat is moving. Any child under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket at all times when the boat is underway—which according to Goodson also means when it’s not anchored and only drifting. The other important aspect is it must be the proper fitting life jacket.

“The biggest issue we see on the water is a properly fitting life jacket. You have a young child and they will not be able to wear an adult PFD. Proper fitting is very important. If a mom or dad is holding a baby in the boat and they have an adult life jacket on them, that’s not going to work,” he explained.

Those over the age of 12 aren’t required to wear a life jacket, but Goodson noted they don’t work if you’re not wearing them. What is required is there is one on board for every person and they need to be readily accessible. The last part of the requirement is where a lot of problems happen.

“You can’t have them buried under all of the gas cans, oil cans, and canopies for your pontoon. You need to have those readily accessible so they can be grabbed in the event of a problem,” he said.

Those are safety regulations for a boat, the regulations are different for a personal water craft.

“Lots of rules on those jet skis, or whatever people want to call them. Everybody is required to wear a life jacket on those and you need to be tethered to the emergency cutoff switch in case you get thrown off. You also can’t operate them at night, because there’s no lights on a PWC,” Goodson said.

Fishermen have had their boats in the water for several months now, but this weekend will possibly be the first outing for many runabout watercraft owners. Goodson suggested taking a test drive before the weekend and after a thorough inspection of all systems.

“The biggest thing we’ll see is people going out there to run the boat and it stops. You need to check all of the oil, gas, and other fluids. Check the lower units. Check how you get the boat to and from the ramp. Make sure the bearings on the trailer are greased. Make sure all of the ropes are in good shape and make sure all of your lights are working. It’s the little things that can make a big difference once you’re out there on the water,” he said.

Finally, as usual Goodson stressed the need to appoint a “sober skipper” for the outing. At least one person of legal age to operate the boat, who has the proper certification, needs to stay out of the beer cooler for the day. Failure to make this decision can be costly.

“Boating under the influence is a tremendous problem. You’ve got to get those folks back to the dock safely. We’ll be out there looking for it, and it’s DUI on the water,” he said.

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DHHR lists 2,000 recovered COVID cases over last 5 days

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Health and Human Resources reported a drop in active cases of COVID-19 Monday.

Sunday’s posted active case number on the DHHR dashboard was 2,570. Active cases were down to 2,500 Monday.

The agency has recorded just shy of 2,000 recovered cases since last Thursday.

Hospitalizations remain virtually unchanged at 152 patients.

The DHHR did confirm three additional deaths Monday including an 86-year old male from Lewis County, an 83-year old female from Wood County, and an 85-year old female from Braxton County.

Total deaths are 6,918.

Active cases per county include: Barbour (23), Berkeley (176), Boone (35), Braxton (6), Brooke (18), Cabell (147), Calhoun (6), Clay (6), Doddridge (4), Fayette (65), Gilmer (2), Grant (5), Greenbrier (86), Hampshire (10), Hancock (40), Hardy (15), Harrison (143), Jackson (7), Jefferson (89), Kanawha (292), Lewis (9), Lincoln (25), Logan (57), Marion (127), Marshall (50), Mason (34), McDowell (16), Mercer (75), Mineral (36), Mingo (29), Monongalia (178), Monroe (28), Morgan (17), Nicholas (33), Ohio (94), Pendleton (4), Pleasants (4), Pocahontas (4), Preston (19), Putnam (76), Raleigh (161), Randolph (21), Ritchie (12), Roane (16), Summers (7), Taylor (37), Tucker (6), Tyler (8), Upshur (31), Wayne (20), Webster (7), Wetzel (21), Wirt (8), Wood (46), Wyoming (10)

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Body found in Cheat River in Preston County

KINGWOOD, W.Va. – The Preston County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the discovery of a body the Cheat River.

The man’s body was discovered in the water Friday near the U.S. Route 50 bridge near Macomber. Police were not able to determine how long the man had been in the water.

The body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office to make a positive identification.

Anyone who may have information is asked to contact the Preston County Sheriff’s Department at 304-329-1611.

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Lawmakers learn about battery storage for green energy

(Story by David Beard/The Dominion Post)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Legislators took a dive Monday morning into a different realm of green energy: battery storage.

This isn’t batteries for your Chevy Volt. It’s grid-level storage that can support not only the obvious wind and solar, but coal-and gas-fired generation too.

Members of the Joint Energy Committee heard from two industry experts during May interim meetings held at WVU.

Adam Kabulski is vice president for Sales and Marketing for EPC Power Corp. and a Fairmont native. The company makes grid interface inverters that convert DC power from battery modules into AC power for a grid.

A single battery is just a small flat cell producing about 4 volts. Cells are compiled into modules, modules into cabinet racks, racks into shipping-size containers called power conversion systems (PCS).

PCS’s can help solve a number of problems, Kabulski said. Grid power demand has peaks and valleys and stored power can save a company money by allowing it to draw from storage when demand charges go up.

They can provide backup power in times of interruption. For power plants and grid systems, they can respond quickly to grid demands and anomalies, as the fossil-fuel generators are designed to be steady paced while battery systems can quickly and automatically respond to fluctuations.

Kabulski said EPC is building a 227 megawatt site in California to store solar power from an array near a substation.

He advised, ‘Get involved early. This is going to be on the grid everywhere soon.”

The battery market is 90% lithium based, he said, and lithium mining is dominated by Australia, with Nevada being the number 2 producer. Battery manufacturing is dominated by Asian companies. EPC batteries are made domestically (using lithium) and employ only U.S. personnel.

Kabulksi said there is no one solution for supplying power into the grid. Thermal generators have a role and PCS’s have a role. The key is to find the balance.

Answering some legislator questions, he said batteries have a 12-16 year commercial life, with another 5-10 years of useful life after that, suitable for research or serving impoverished communities. The problem is no one will warrant them.

Batteries are recyclable, he said, with 90% of the material having commercial value. Manufacturers have free takeback program but recycling programs are not where they need to be. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to actually have a recycling program and make them useful again. … I certainly think its something the industry needs to push harder on.

Joel Harrington is director of Public Energy Policy for the Eastern U.S. branch of Enel North America.

Enel, a global power company, has two green energy subsidiaries: Enel Green Power and Enel X. It has renewable energy plants in 18 states.

Enel has six utility scale projects in the works in West Virginia, he said, with a total 769 MW of power generation and 185 MW of storage.

He talked about one in Raleigh County. It’s what Enel calls a Solar + Storage project. It will have a combined generation capacity of 120 MW with a 30 MW battery system to smooth the energy supply. That power will go into the PJM regional energy grid.

Harrington said Enel is also developing a partnership with WVU to support its Energy and Environments program and collaboration with WV Women Work.

Harrington told the legislators that this kind of commercial investment has grown from $629 million in 2019 to a projected $9 billion in 2026.

Lawmakers should keep in mind, he said, that regulations and policy structures help companies determine where they’ll direct their investments.

State engagement, he said, should include such things as streamline permitting, updating the interconnection process and supporting growth of research.

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D’Antoni believes homesickness played a part in Slay’s early departure from Herd hoops staff

By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall men’s basketball head coach Dan D’Antoni says a case of homesickness likely cost the Thundering Herd its most recent addition to the coaching staff.

Former Herd basketball great Tamar Slay, a Beckley native who played in the NBA and European pro leagues for a decade, has resigned from his assistant coach position on the Marshall staff just a month after he was hired.

D’Antoni says Slay missed his family, who remained in Charlotte, after his hiring at Marshall.

“It was being away from the family,” D’Antoni said. “He needed to be home with his family so he’s going home to Charlotte, plus he has some businesses there.”

One of those businesses is Tamar Slay Basketball Enterprises, which identifies and creates opportunities to train, cultivate, educate, develop and promote basketball players, programs, events and facilities. .

Slay was taking part in leading limited offseason workouts for the Thundering Herd basketball team, which began two weeks ago.

Until Slay is replaced, D’Antoni will lead workouts along with remaining assistants Mark Cline and Cornelius Jackson.

D’Antoni and his staff will also work to fill the vacant position Slay left behind.

“It’s an attractive job and we just have to search again,” D’Antoni said.

Slay, a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, scored 1,792 points in his Marshall career, putting him ninth place on the MU all-time scoring list. He’s also in second place on Marshall’s all-time list of three-pointers with 251, trailing only Austin Loop.

Slay was taken with the 54th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets where played for two seasons and made an appearance in the 2003 NBA Finals. In 2004, he was taken by the Charlotte Bobcats in the expansion draft.

After his time ended in the NBA, Slay played eight seasons in Europe, including seven in Italy.

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Lawmakers hear needs of child care expansion in West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — State health officials are looking at private-public partnerships to help expand child care services across West Virginia.

During interim committee meetings in Morgantown Monday, state lawmakers heard about efforts to work with businesses like Nucor Steel as the company prepares to build a multi-billion dollar facility in Mason County and employ up to 800 people.

Lisa Ertl, director of the state DHHR’s Division of Early Child Care Education, gave a presentation to the Joint Committee on Health.

“Right now DHHR, WorkForce West Virginia, the Small Business Development Corporation is working with Nucor that is coming in to help them determine what’s available in West Virginia, how child care can be supported by Nucor and how Nucor can support child care,” Ertl said.

The agency is working with businesses to help increase awareness of the child care issue that Ertl said has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that will help expand if we can get more businesses in West Virginia to understand and appreciate. I think they saw that during the pandemic — the impact that the lack of child care has on their workforce,” she said.

Janie Cole, interim commissioner of the state DHHR’s Bureau for Family Assistance, told lawmakers child care is coupled with increased workforce participation. As more businesses move into the West Virginia, the need for workers increases and so does the need for access to child care.

“There’s a workforce issue with parents not being able to go to work because we don’t have enough child care,” Cole said. “Parents need child care to work and go to school, but they need safe, stable child care so that they don’t lose productivity at worrying about their children and where they are.”

Cole said it’s difficult to retain child care employees when they barely get paid a living wage.

“Most of them are earning poverty level wages. For the most part, child care providers get paid minimum wage. Almost never do you see them receiving benefits. They don’t receive health care, yet they’re exposed to illnesses on a regular basis because you’re down on the floor with children,” she said.

Committee member Del. Larry Pack (R-Kanawha, 35) asked Ertl how the legislature can help increase child care services.

“Do you believe West Virginians don’t have adequate access to child care?” Pack asked.

“I agree that there needs to be more capacity,” Ertl replied.

Ertl said when opening new child care services, it’s important to consider the areas of West Virginia that are more heavily populated.

“We have to look at demographics and the need for a child care provider to remain financially viable. They can open their doors, but if they’re only caring for one child, they won’t be able to keep those doors open,” Ertl said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Del. Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha, 37) expressed concern over American Rescue Plan funding once the state has exhausted that money.

“At some point, when that expires, how reliant are we going to be on a new reconciliation package?” Pushkin asked DHHR officials.

“Very,” they replied.

There are about 1,300 child care providers across the state.

Interim meetings are set to continue Tuesday.

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