WELCH, WV (WVNS) – Governor Jim Justice, Senator Joe Manchin, and more were in Downtown Welch on June 10 to celebrate completing the first phase of their project, Reconnecting McDowell.

Friday, McDowell County celebrated the grand opening of a new, $9 million apartment building called Renaissance Village, located in the heart of downtown Welch.

The building features a coffee shop and gift store on the ground floor and will provide housing specifically designed for McDowell County teachers.

Friday’s grand opening marked the culmination of 11 years of work for a dedicated group named Reconnecting McDowell.

Senator Manchin said when he took on the project of Reconnecting McDowell, he knew investing in education was the first priority in building a successful future for the county.

“Education is basically the great equalizer if you will,” said the Senator. “And people sometimes lose faith in education, or they don’t have the proper means or tools. And if you can’t get educators who have a place to live, a quality place they can call their own, it’s kind of hard to gather them and bring them down and attract them.”

The idea for the Reconnecting McDowell committee was started by Senator Manchin’s wife, Gayle, who is herself a former educator.

During her speech, Mrs. Manchin even became emotional when she recalled visiting students in McDowell county but having no answer for them when they asked her why their teachers kept moving away.

“It’s hard for me to talk about it anytime and not just tear up that these children felt somehow they were responsible for teachers leaving, that it was their fault,” said Mrs. Manchin. “They had nothing to do with it, you know, they were the victims.”

Manchin hopes with the opening of Renaissance village, more teachers will be motivated to teach and live in McDowell County.

That’s the case for former McDowell County schools student Nadia Johnson, who returned to her home county to serve as the Communities in Schools Facilitator at Mount View Middle and High Schools.

“Everybody knows we need the support, but it’s even more important to see them actually here giving their support toward us,” Johnson told 59News. “It means a great deal to each one of us, especially me growing up in the county and now being back to work, knowing that I have the support that we are needing.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which has partnered with Reconnecting McDowell to improve public education in McDowell County, brought more than 40,000 books to the ceremony which will be donated to children and schools in the county.