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Huntington high-rise sells for $500K

HUNTINGTON — A landmark "skyscraper" in downtown Huntington has been sold.

The Coal Exchange Building at the intersection of 4th Avenue and 11th Street sold for $500,000 during a public auction Thursday in the lobby on the ground floor of the historic building.

Joe Pyle, owner of Joe R. Pyle Complete Auction & Realty Co., auctioned the 14-story, 140,000-square-foot building in combination with the smaller building attached next door that has an additional 10,000 square feet of space.

About 60 people attended the event. Bidding started at $100,000 and in less than six minutes was up to half a million dollars.

"The auction hammer price was $500,000 and there is a 10% buyer premium added, which makes the final contract price $550,000," Pyle explained.

The winning bidder was Whirlwind Properties LLC, a Huntington real estate investment firm. However, after the auction was over, the company yielded the sale to Francis McGuire with McGuire Realty, who was representing the buyer.

"The buyer is Jay Barta, who owns many different companies," McGuire said. "He is also the owner of the DoubleTree by Hilton Huntington."

The DoubleTree by Hilton, which was formerly the Pullman Plaza Hotel, recently had over $7 million worth of renovations completed. It became the first

DoubleTree by Hilton in West Virginia.

McGuire says Barta plans to renovate the ground-level floors of the two buildings into commercial space and make residential living spaces on the upper floors of the Coal Exchange Building.

"You won't see much renovation activity for several months, but his plans are to completely renovate these buildings," McGuire said.

Pyle said the buildings' $500,000 auction sale price was the approximate market value for the properties.

Pyle said the owners of the building, Mouwafak and Hanan Ghannam, are retiring from the property owning and managing business and decided that a public auction was the quickest way to close on a sale.

"The buildings have great bones, but need renovated on the inside," Pyle said. "With the location downtown, close to Pullman Square and Marshall University, this is a great deal. You can have retail space on the ground level and office or residential space on the upper floors."

The Coal Exchange Building has a grand entrance with three elevators, marble floors and walls in its main lobby, over 5,500 square feet of space on each level, 28 bathrooms, as well as a new boiler system, transformer, electrical work and a rubber roof.

While the Coal Exchange Building is not on the National Register of Historic Places, the high-rise is considered historic by locals. The building is the city's third-tallest building at 160 feet tall.

The building's tall concrete-and-steel centerpiece began life in the mid-1920s, according to Jim Casto, retired associate editor for The Herald-Dispatch, who has written about the building's history.

"Elaborately designed, with marble floors and walls in its lobby, it boasted offices that were larger and finer than any others in the city at that time," Casto wrote. "Not surprisingly, the building rapidly filled with tenants — doctors, lawyers and, of course, coal companies "

The Coal Exchange Bank occupied the ground floor, but the Great Depression resulted in its closure and forced bankruptcy on the building's owners, too. The property ended up being sold at auction at the Cabell County Courthouse in about 1933, and it is thought that that's when it was chosen by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for its engineering department and other offices.

Later, Kaiser Drug Store occupied the ground floor, and most recently it was home to Glenn's Sporting Goods before it moved to 1040 3rd Ave. It also at one time housed many other companies, including Knuckle Sandwich, Kindred Communications radio, the Herd Insider, Greater Huntington Theater Corp., Jenkins Fenstermaker Law Firm and the Marshall University Research Corp., among others.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

Cabell teachers train, prep for upcoming school year

HUNTINGTON — For as much back-to-school prep as students and parents invest into the coming of a new school year, schools themselves are putting in more work as the hallowed first day quickly approaches.

In Cabell County, which starts school for students Wednesday, Aug. 14, teachers and staff are in the midst of their annual pre-year professional development training this week — workshops provided by the county in their specific subjects to support their lessons for the coming year.

Prior to the first day for students, teachers have five days of professional training followed by two days of classroom prep, used to set up their rooms before students arrive.

The dozens of training sessions hosted daily

at schools across the county hit topics like classroom safety, new textbooks and technology, and refreshing on writing and math standards. Teachers are also able to see in advance how their incoming students have scored in certain subjects the year prior, allowing them to know in advance which areas and subjects need extra attention.

"It gives teachers a chance to (see) their coming year at a glance and to make instructional changes based on their incoming students," said Kelly Watts, assistant superintendent for instruction and leadership at Cabell County Schools.

At Huntington Middle School, Leah Turley led a workshop Thursday for Cabell County's music teachers on the practical application of performing arts.

Turley, artistic director for Marshall University's theater program and education and outreach coordinator for the Marshall Artists Series, lectured that the arts is a proven economic driver, and that teachers should likewise encourage students to view the arts as a viable career path.

"Artists and professional actors do not just pop out of some place in Brooklyn. They're made here in your public education systems," Turley said. "Teachers are the ground floor of that."

The Marshall Artists Series will support schools throughout the year by providing free ticket and travel vouchers to up to 10 of its performances this year to schools in Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Kanawha, Boone and surrounding counties.

Down the hall in the school's cafeteria, Huntington Police Cpl. Lance Roberts presented to health and gym teachers on current drug trends among school-age children and how to spot them. The new worries include e-cigarettes like the popular Juul device, "dabs," which are a resin or oil extract of marijuana that can be discreetly vaporized, along with the long-established alcohol, tobacco and marijuana problems.

Roberts, the school resource officer assigned to Huntington High School, noted that while drugs are uncommon in schools themselves, they are prevalent among teens out in the community. Prevention in schools, he continued, is vital to stopping substance abuse early.

"The younger we do that, that's going to be the biggest deterrent to our addiction problem," Roberts said. "Outside of school, it's become part of our culture."

On Friday, Roberts will host active shooter training at Huntington Middle, stressing that teachers become a "hard target" as quickly as possible in the event of a school shooting. This means barricading doors with chairs, tables, even an extension cord to block the entrances to their classrooms. Shooters, he continued, are rushing to look for easy targets and not likely to spend time on a blocked entrance.

While the topic is even more so at the front of people's minds given the mass shootings last week in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Roberts said it's always on their mind.

"I don't see it getting any better," Roberts said. "Gun culture, mental illness, the culture — there are so many factors, and I don't see any practical solutions. It's here, and we're going to have to deal with it."

As far as facilities go, all Cabell County schools are expected to be ready to open as normal Wednesday, said Kim Cooper, assistant superintendent for operations, though ongoing construction at three schools will mean detours until their expected completion.

Spring Hill and Altizer elementary schools are both still having their double-doored "man-trap" main entrances finished, though students will enter through another nearby door. The new addition to Martha Elementary is still under construction, though it will not disrupt classes as work continues.

All projects are expected to be completed by Thanksgiving break.

Cabell County will begin the school year with 14 teaching vacancies, though those positions can be filled by long-term substitutes until a permanent teacher can be hired, said Debbie Smith, professional personnel manager for Cabell County Schools. There are approximately 800 classroom teachers in Cabell County.

HFD looks for six new firefighters

HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Fire Department is looking for highly motivated women and men to fill out their ranks.

As of now, the department needs at least six new firefighters in the face of a nationwide shortage of those willing to suit up and do the work.

Although the workload may not be for everyone, those who choose to do it end up making it their careers, said Huntington Fire Department Lt. Cliff Hankins, who is in charge of recruitment.

"The majority of people that get hired on and make it through the probationary period end up staying 20 years or more," Hankins said. "We are looking for highly motivated people. It's a hard job, so you have to earn it."

Hiring new firefighters will come as a relief to firefighters currently on staff, Hankins said, who have to work overtime to make up the staff shortage. Shortages are plaguing many cities across the country, which can be attributed to many factors.

"I'm not sure if it's the job market right now or if it's just a generational thing," Hankins said. "I've heard a lot of theories, but I know we aren't the only one."

To apply, people may pick up applications in the City Clerk's Office at City Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, between the ages of 18 and 35 and have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Applicants should also be both physically and mentally fit, he said.

After candidates turn in their applications, they must pass a civil service test, which will be administered Sept. 30. People who pass that will then be given a physical agility test and a background check, which includes a drug screening and psychological exam. Those who clear those requirements will be sent to the Tri-State Fire Academy for six weeks. At the academy, candidates will learn how to perform firefighter duties, HAZMAT operations and general first aid, among other things. After that, they are placed in a station to serve a one-year probationary period.

Applications will be accepted until the end of the business day Aug. 23. Starting salary is $35,975 and increases to $40,749 after the fifth year.

"We are just looking for people who want to do the job," Hankins said. "We need firefighters."

Southern WV family mourns woman slain in Dayton

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — The tragedy that occurred in Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend touched the Southern West Virginia coalfields as a local family is mourning one of nine people killed in the deadly shooting.

Beatrice "Nicole" Warren-Curtis, 36, was at the Oregon District in Dayton, which is popular for its bars and restaurants, when a gunman opened fire, killing nine people and injuring 27 before he was shot and killed a minute later by local police.

Warren-Curtis is the daughter of well-known Williamson native, community advocate and Liberty High School graduate Nadine Warren and former Williamson High School graduate William "Mitch" Curtis.

According to an article in the Dayton Daily News, Warren-Curtis, who lived in Carrollton, Virginia, a suburb of Virginia Beach, was in Dayton visiting her friend Monica Brickhouse.

Brickhouse, 39, was also slain in the shooting.

According to the article, Warren-Curtis and Brickhouse worked together for Anthem Insurance in Virginia Beach and became friends. Warren-Curtis was visiting

Brickhouse, who was originally from Ohio and had recently moved back to Dayton and was living with her young son.

Warren-Curtis was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and grew up in Wilmington, Delaware.

She never called Williamson home, but would spend many days in the Tug Valley area, visiting her family and friends, in particular her grandparents, James and Alise Warren.

She attended Delcastle Technical High School in Wilmington, where she graduated in 2002. Following high school, Warren-Curtis attended Norfolk State University, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2006.

Comments in the guestbook for Warren-Curtis' obituary at show a glimpse into the kind of person she was.

"Beatrice was an all-around good person with a good heart. She was at her core a genuine individual who consistently looked out for the good of others. She will be greatly missed, and she was loved by many," said Latisha Greene, from Virginia Beach.

A. Askew-Scott, from Norfolk, Virginia, said, "Bea was an awesome person and left a positive image on everyone's life she came in contact with. She will always be near and dear to my heart. I will forever remember her laugh and the beautiful smile she greeted me with whenever we met. She will be missed tremendously by all!"

"This tragedy really rocked my world. I am so extremely blessed to have encountered Bea. Her pure and sweet spirit made my world a better place ... #Rest in Paradise, Bea," wrote Kodedra Dockery-McMickle, from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Visitation is from 11 a.m. until noon Saturday, Aug. 10, at Truth Tabernacle Church, 603 Logan St. in Williamson. The funeral service will begin at noon with the Rev. Roger Egnor officiating.

Interment will be in Mountain View Memory Gardens at Maher, where she will be put to rest next to her grandparents. Family members and friends will serve as pallbearers.

A candlelight vigil for Warren-Curtis will be held outside of the Truth Tabernacle Church at dusk Friday night.

Weaver Mortuary of West Williamson is serving the Warren-Curtis family. Condolences may be expressed online at

Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at