The Flatwoods Job Corps center near Coeburn has been marked for shutdown.
Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a press release stating that the U.S. Forest Service intends to withdraw from operating Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers.
“This action creates an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers by modernizing and reforming part of the Job Corps program,” the release states.
It does not explain the factors used in identifying “higher performing centers.”
Among other proposed changes, a notice will be placed in the Federal Register proposing the “deactivation” of the Flatwoods center and eight other centers in Frenchburg, Ky., Pine Knot, Ky., Cherokee, N.C., Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oregon and Washington state.
Sixteen other CCC facilities “will be replaced by new contract operators or a partnership overseen by Department of Labor,” the release states.
The changes will be carried out “in a way that minimizes impact on students, allowing each student to complete their technical training program or transfer to another center to do so,” it continues.
Coeburn Mayor Jeff Kiser Sunday called the prospect of the Flatwoods center closing “very disturbing.”
The Job Corps facility has been in Wise County for many years and has a significant economic impact on the town, Kiser said. Closing it would be “an economic blow to the community in more ways than one,” he added.
Along with being an overall resource for the area, the center is a “huge” water and sewer service customer for Coeburn, Kiser noted.
At press time Monday, Coeburn council was set to meet that night. Kiser said council would vote on a resolution expressing displeasure with the prospect of closing Flatwoods. It will be sent to Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith and Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Flatwoods Director David Scholes could not be reached for comment Monday, when most federal, state and local government offices were closed in observance of Memorial Day.
Warner’s office confirmed Monday that Warner, Kaine and Griffith would jointly send a letter to the Trump administration that day expressing concern.
“Closing these facilities will negatively impact the communities they serve, most of which are low-income urban and rural areas,” the letter notes.
“We are especially concerned that DOL plans to close the Flatwoods facility in Coeburn, Virginia,” the letter continues. “Flatwoods employs dozens of individuals in the community and serves a large number of students each year. This facility provides young adults in the region with the educational, social, and vocational skills needed to find quality employment, while also aiding in the conservation of the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest. The Flatwoods center provides a nearly $6 million economic impact to the local community, an area that has faced significant economic hardship as coal production has declined in recent years. Closing this facility in the heart of Southwest Virginia is a concerning decision that will lead to fewer opportunities for our constituents who depend on this center for employment and skills training.”
The national reorganization plan and closure of nine facilities “will lead to the loss of 1,100 dedicated Forest Service employees,” the legislators wrote.
In a separate email, Griffith stated: “I was disappointed to learn about plans to close the Flatwoods Job Corps center in Coeburn. In addition to the jobs it supports, the center provides a source of training and education for people in the community.”
The Flatwoods center combines education with vocational and skills training for young adults ages 16-24.
In 2016, Flatwoods was chosen as the Job Corps national director’s Center of the Year. The honor was based on several factors including having been ranked among the top 25 Job Corps centers nationwide for three consecutive program years.
Other factors in being chosen center of the year included the facility’s extracurricular projects. Along with regularly helping local fire departments in fighting fires, students had provided free labor for community projects in Duffield, Wise, Appalachia, St. Paul and in Norton’s Flag Rock recreation area. Students also assist the forest service with maintenance at its local recreation areas.
Flatwoods was previously named national center of the year in 2013.
Students at the Flatwoods center, which can accommodate up to 180, earn their high school diploma or GED and learn trades including carpentry, plumbing, electrical, plastering, painting and masonry.
In recent years, Flatwoods Job Corps has taken hits in capacity and programming, having dropped welding and business administration. Capacity enrollment had been 180 but, as of a published report last summer, the number had dropped to 105. In 2017, the center had a staff of 65 but more recent numbers were not available as of press time.
— Some information was provided by Editor and Publisher Jenay Tate.