Rally in Ripley attracts hundreds

RIPLEY – More than 800 people turned out Thursday at the Cedar Lakes Conference Center to show their support for the center and to stop a proposal to close the 400-acre center.

John Riddle of the Cedar Lakes Conference Center Foundation said Thursday’s rally was to show the state the community supports the center that is the site for activities year round.

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

Riddle said the West Virginia School Building Authority designated the center as an educational facility in 2004. Since then, more than $2 million has been spent on the buildings and grounds.

“They have paid for everything from the roofs you see on the buildings to windows to the first phase of the expansion of the assembly hall,” he said. “The second phase will increase the seating capacity so we aren’t so crammed up in there when we have 500 to 700 students here.”

Riddle said the second phase is awaiting approval from the SBA.

Karen Facemyer, president of the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair, said the Cedar Lakes Conference Center is a special place for many people in Jackson County and surrounding counties.

It makes many programs for the Future Farmers of America, Future Homemakers of America and Future Business Leaders of America possible, she said.

“Cedar Lakes plays a part in everything we do,” Facemyer said. “It gives the leadership skills to the youth so that hopefully they will become future senators, presidents and congress people with compassion.”

Facemyer said Cedar Lakes is the best location for the art and craft fair.

“Gov. Tomblin has assured me he is in total support of Cedar Lakes,” she said to a loud round of applause.

“With that said, we all know about budgets and we have to crunch some numbers and there are some things we can do.”

Facemyer said as chairman of the state Senate finance committee, Tomblin was a supporter of the building of Holt Lodge. In 2007 as Senate president he supported paying off the loans for the lodge with surplus funds.

“He (Tomblin) assured me he is going to work diligently with the superintendent and any others that need to be drawn into the conversation,” Facemyer said.

James Phares, state superintendent of schools, said Cedar Lakes is important in the current emphasis on career and technical education.

“There is a 7.5 percent cut coming again this year and we have cut and we have cut,” he said. “I told the office of budget ‘you may not think it’s raining on your side of the street but on my side it is pouring and Cedar Lakes is part of that.'”

Phares said a study showed when the department took over in 1999 it was able to stabilize the center.

“We got it to where every year the revenue of 67 percent and the 33 percent kind of matched; there was sustainability there,” he said.

Phares said the economic downturn hurt the center and the center needs the public’s help.

“We need a concerted effort, not one that has people talking past others but one that has people talking to each other,” he said. “It’s not about what I can do but about what we can do.”

Proposals call for the center to close while others suggest the ownership should shift from the West Virginia Department of Education to another department.

Riddle said the center belongs in the hands of the department and the West Virginia Board of Education. At this time, he said, no announcement has been made as to which department would take over the center.

The 7.5 percent cut expected in all departments could be made at the center and keep it open, Riddle said.

“It can be done through attrition,” he said. “Most people don’t realize there were 42 full-time employees here and now we are at 31. In 2006, the employees voted to give up 20 days to allow two individuals to keep their jobs.

“That’s a tremendous statement about the people who work here.”