BUCKHANNON – The mayor of Buckhannon on Thursday said the state of the city remains strong, despite the events of 2021 peppering it with some high highs and low lows.
Mayor Robbie Skinner delivered a state-of-the-city address at council’s meeting Jan. 20, reviewing some of the bright spots – as well as the darker moments – of the past year. The address also looked to the future, laying out city officials’ priorities for 2022.
Skinner’s address started out paying homage to the myriad ways in which community members came together amid pandemic-related difficulties.
“It’s true, this pandemic has tried everything possible to cripple us, but our City of Buckhannon has proven to be no match for it,” Skinner said. “Neighbors have made sure neighbors have had what they need when they’ve become ill. Our school system delivered lunches to students at their homes because the classroom doors closed for months at a time. Our healthcare workers never gave up, and they continue to give us their all each and every day, and for that, we are grateful.”
“Our business community rallied to support each other, helping to pay one another’s rent or utility bills when times got tough, and also cover shifts in each other’s stores for employees and business owners who tested positive to make sure important sales weren’t missed,” he added. “Our police and fire departments participated in drive through birthday and anniversary celebrations, and Santa Claus was escorted through our streets during the holiday season, bringing joy to our community, delivering small glimmers of normalcy among trying times.”
Skinner asked council members to pause for a moment of silence in remembrance of family, friends and community members who passed away from the COVID-19 virus.
The mayor cited small rays of hope that emerged amid the ongoing pandemic and local economic challenges in 2021, including the return of Festival Fridays to Jawbone Park and the addition of a slew of new businesses and storefronts to Main Street. Skinner also mentioned “significant progress” made on the historic Colonial Arts Center, saying the facility “should open very soon as a fully renovated, state-of-the-art public entertainment space adding yet another amazing asset to our downtown.”
However, in October, the Buckhannon-Upshur community faced an unthinkable tragedy when a structure fire demolished the building at 23 East Main Street. Four businesses were destroyed and about a dozen residents were displaced from destroyed apartments.
“I can tell you that, as mayor of my hometown, that was a heartbreaking day,” Skinner said. “I love this City beyond words, and a significant fire downtown has always been my worst nightmare. It hurt, and it still hurts, but it will not take us down. We saw our worst that day, but more so, our best. Hopefully soon, the eyesore will be removed, to allow for new growth!”
The mayor then reviewed updates on completed, ongoing and future projects from city departments.
Some highlights include:
- The Buckhannon Police Department attaining national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
- K-9 Officer Erros joined the BPD to work with his partner, Sgt. William Courtney.
- City officials have commenced the process of developing and building a firefighter training facility on Mud Lick Road near the city Street Department/Waste Garage.
- The Buckhannon Fire Department hired three additional full-time city firefighters, including the city’s first-ever female firefighter, Maria Potter.
- The Sanitary Sewer Department completed a sewer line extension along U.S. Route 33, providing sanitary sewer service to business owners and residents located on the north side of the highway west along the road to Smitty’s Suzuki.
- The Sanitary Sewer department also finished the “long overdue” North Spring Street project. This project involved installing an upgraded sanitary sewer system and brand-new stormwater sewer system along the length of North Spring Street, ending at its intersection with Main Street.
- The Water Department installed an early warning water quality monitoring system that will alert the water plant from upstream in the Buckhannon River if contaminants are discovered headed toward the water plant’s intake valve.
- The Street Department moved from its old, insufficient home on Factory Street to a 40,000-square-foot headquarters on Mud Lick Road on an area that measures more than 5 acres.
- The Street Department completed 5,200 feet of new ADA-compliant sidewalks on West Main Street, Smithfield Street, North Spring Street and North Kanawha Street and tore seven dilapidated residential or commercial buildings down to may way for new development.
- The Stockert Youth & Community Center is currently working with an architect who developed a rendering of the proposed multipurpose gymnasium addition.
Looking forward, Skinner said one of his main goals is to examine the city parks and implement several “much-needed improvements.”
“We have done a great job developing the Jawbone Park area, but our City Park and Park Street and our other five public parks also need our attention,” Skinner said. “The good news is, our Planning Commission, led by Dr. Susan Aloi, is already making public recreation a priority, and I’m excited to be part of the discussions.”
Other future undertakings Skinner touched on include conducting a hydrology study of Jawbone Run to better prepare for flooding events, taking preliminary steps to create a fire training facility on Mud Lick Road and completing street paving projects.
“Jerry’s [Arnold, public works director] and Brad’s [Hawkins, street superintendent] goals over the next construction season will be to complete both the North Kanawha and North Spring Street corridors with new sidewalks, allowing for parking on both sides of North Kanawha Street, and the installation of period street lighting – similar to the lights that are on Main Street,” the mayor said.
Additionally, work on the south side of the Gateway West project will begin, and the goal is to mirror the new sidewalks and period lighting that was installed across the street on the north side. Skinner assured council members and the Buckhannon-Upshur community that long-awaited paving will be wrapped up.
“We chose to contract out street paving this year,” he said. “Although we have been able to complete a few of the streets outlined in the priority list, Cooper Asphalt still needs to complete Latham Street, North Spring Street, North Kanawha Street, and a few areas in North Buckhannon, and over on Upper and Lower Drive.”
City officials hope to draw up a plan to reduce flooding during major rain events.
“In the Jawbone Run area, we are working with our consulting engineers to complete a hydrology study of the drainage way to formulate a plan to minimize flooding during major rains,” Skinner reported.
Expressing his gratitude, Skinner said the State of the City is strong and Buckhannon is ready for the future.
“And so, to the citizens and business owners of this wonderful community, I am proud to report that the State of Our City is strong,” Skinner said, wrapping up his speech. “We are well-positioned for the future, and I am confident we will continue to be one of ‘America’s Best Small Towns!’ It is truly my honor to serve the City of Buckhannon as your mayor, and I cannot thank you enough for your support, your prayers and your encouragement.”
You can read the entire State of the City on My Buckhannon here.