WVWC's director of campus safety and security John Bohman briefs council on the college's proposal. (Photo by Katie Kuba)

WVWC’s proposal for addressing update prompts council to reconsider the way all residences and businesses are assigned addresses city-wide

BUCKHANNON – Maybe it’s time for city officials to address Buckhannon City Council’s prior refusal to join Upshur County’s E911 Mapping & Addressing system, which would mean assigning new addresses for all city residences and businesses.

Or maybe not.

A proposal for a major addressing and mapping update from West Virginia Wesleyan College – applicable to only the campus area – has spurred city council to reconsider a prior decision to opt out of Upshur County’s E911 Addressing and Mapping Ordinance.

John Bohman, director of campus safety and security for WVWC, elaborated on the request during Buckhannon City Council’s March 5 meeting.

Bohman said the college is proposing a comprehensive address/mapping update to ensure compliance with city and county code requirements and to enhance emergency response efficiency.

Over the past several months, he’s been working with the E911 Upshur County Communication Center to have pins dropped at specific campus locations, enabling first responders to reach their destinations more quickly.

During that process, Bohnman said he discovered some college addresses needed an update.

“In addition to that, there were frequently used areas across the 110 acres of West Virginia Wesleyan that just didn’t have any pins, and for instance, we have a new tennis court, and there’s not a pin there,” Bohnman said. “If somebody were to say that there was an issue at the tennis court, well, we have two tennis courts, so it would be nice to have a physical address for the new tennis court, and currently, we have one for the old tennis court – that’s just one example.”

Bohman emphasized the request emerged from “collaborative discussions” between college officials, the Buckhannon Fire Department, the county addressing/mapping office, the Upshur County E911 Communication Center, city engineer Jay Hollen and city public works director Jerry Arnold.

The main sections of WVWC’s proposal include the following requests:

  • Adding new roads for improved emergency incident response, for example, adding a road called Wesley Chapel Drive and assigning specific addresses to the Wellness Center, Wesley Chapel and Martin Religious Center
  • Changing the names of roads in and around the college’s property
  • Updating addresses of off-campus student housing and designating those locations as ‘Student Housing’
  • Confirming current college addresses are correct in the county’s 911 system and that main buildings like the Welcome Center and the Administration Building
  • Assigning addresses for locations that don’t have a clear designation, such as the new tennis court, marching band practice lot, practice soccer field, etc.
  • Requesting changes of address for several locations, including the Erickson Alumni Center, Performing Arts Center, Dunn Hall and others

“Once the city has approved [the list of] addresses, as well as the naming of three streets that are actually within the 1 square mile of us, hopefully, that will improve our response for first responders to come to those areas of campus,” Bohman said.

Pending city approval, Bohman’s next step is to ask county addressing and mapping coordinator Terri Jo Bennett to update the actual GIS map that’s used by the E911 Upshur County Comm Center.

Council members agreed to approve WVWC’s proposal. Then, after some discussion, members voted to reopen discussions about joining the county’s E911 Addressing and Mapping ordinance, which the Upshur County Commission passed in 2018.

Mayor Robbie Skinner said ‘revisiting Ordinance 344’ was also listed as a sub-item under the college’s proposal because this isn’t the first time the city has been asked to join the county’s addressing system, which uses a distance-based formula. If the city were to switch to the county system, nearly every address inside city limits would change.

In fact, this is at least the third time council has considered re-addressing the city. The most recent, according to a My Buckhannon article, was in June of 2022, when the Buckhannon Post Office notified the city that 230 addresses on 15 city streets had been marked as problematic. Due to logistical issues, the post office said it could no longer deliver to addresses that included fractions – such as 1/2 – or ones that include a letter, such as A-F, to identify a unit.

After the post office notified the city in 2022, it received “some blowback” from residents who didn’t want their addresses to change after the matter was discussed at council, the mayor said.

“They didn’t pursue it any further with us because people started getting upset with the post office for wanting everybody in town to change their addresses,” Skinner said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Skinner admitted the way the city’s residences/businesses are addressed doesn’t always make sense.

“It is a mess in a lot of places in town,” he said. “For example, where the Moon Flower location is right now is 46 East Main Street,” Skinner said. “[Artistry on Main] directly across the street is 27 East Main Street – they do not line up.”

The alleys that run between the city’s main streets also pose a problem.

“There are properties that should be addressed to the alleys that are just addressed to a street – they just pick a street, usually whichever street it’s closest to – so you’ve got hidden addresses out there between Boggess and Lincoln as an area, and then you’ve got the entire south side,” Skinner said.

“There are alleys that run between Barbour and Fayette, Fayette and Pocahontas, and Pocahontas and Camden, and so on down to the river, so you have [residences] that should actually be addressed to the alley,” he added.

The city has an ordinance on the books – 344 – that, according to Skinner, never should have been drafted.  

“It essentially says that the City of Buckhannon will not play nicely and will not do the 911 addressing with the county, so it’s on the agenda in case anybody wants to have a broader discussion about, ‘Do we look at making this simpler?’ and ‘Do we rip the Band-Aid off and make the addresses match what they should in the county?’” he said.

Arnold recommended the city consider making the switch because it could potentially lose access to federal funding if it doesn’t join the county’s system.

“At some point, we’re going to not be eligible for federal funding, particularly with FEMA,” Arnold said. “Jay (Hollen, city engineer) has reported that, Terri Jo (Bennett) has said that, and we’re only one of two communities in West Virginia that have elected to withdraw from the E911 Addressing system.”

“With that being said, I think it’s just a matter of time before we have to jump through this hoop,” Arnold said. “I think we’ve put it off for quite a while.”

Councilman David Thomas asked if joining the county’s E911 system “would be a liability,” and Skinner replied not joining would carry a higher liability.

Councilman Jack Reger voiced his support for the change.

“I think it’s a prudent thing to do,” Reger said. “It’s not just for fire but for EMS. If an ambulance is running to a residence and they’re going to the wrong place, just a few seconds or a couple minutes can be the difference between life and death.”

“Less important, if funding is associated with the E911 system, then I think — pardon the language – that we should just pull the scab off and get it done,” he added.

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