By David Kirk – Times West Virginian

WHITE HALL — Pierpont’s Culinary Academy has had a stellar first semester in their new location, but the caliber of their performance is nothing new.

Pierpont Community & Technical College officials and local officials gathered Thursday at the Middletown Commons to officially cut the ribbon on the new headquarters for the Pierpont Culinary Academy.

The faculty and students have been in the new digs since the start of this year, but Thursday was the official dedication and celebration of the move into the new space.

The new facility was built out for the specific needs of the program, including two full-scale industrial grade kitchens, offices for staff, a hybrid dining room-classroom and plenty of storage space amounting to around 10,000 square feet of space.

This is quite the upgrade from the 3,000 square feet the program was smushed into on the Locust Avenue campus of Fairmont State University. After the formal separation agreement between Fairmont State and Pierpont, the culinary program had to vacate the campus, and Pierpont invested around $500,000 toward the move and the new space in the commons.

“This is an excellent location surrounded by the development going on here and I know nothing but good things will come from our culinary school,” Pierpont Board of Governors Chair Davis Hinkle said. “I’m super excited to see what our culinary school can offer to businesses and the people who want to learn.”

Several Pierpont officials spoke and thanked the construction team who made the buildout possible and congratulated the chefs and faculty in the culinary program, many of whom went above and beyond their normal hours to make sure every part of the move was done right.

Representing the business community was Marion County Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Jay Rogers, who expressed his excitement that Pierpont decided to keep its culinary program in Marion County.

“We’re very grateful you’ve decided to remain here in Marion County and that you chose to join the exciting redevelopment happening here at the former Middletown Mall,” Rogers said. “We look forward to a continued relationship and our members are here to support you.”

After the presentations and the ribbon cutting, guests were invited to tour the new facility and to sample some of the food made by the students.

The Pierpont administration stated over and over in the presentation that they are excited for the future of the culinary program. Earlier this month, the program was ranked as the No. 4 culinary program in the United States by Best Value Schools.

With this new, state-of-the-art facility and plenty of room to grow, the dean who oversees the program, David Beighley, believes the culinary academy is primed for major growth.

“We certainly foresee exponential growth in our enrollment numbers. We’re really looking at building onto our culinary arts and baking and pastries arts program, as well as our new nutrition and dietetics technology program,” Beighley said. “This new location at the Middletown Commons really allows up to partner with the surrounding assets and we really see growth coming.”

The hope of increased business and attention is held not only by Beighley, but also by the developers of the Middletown Commons, David and Richard Biafora.

David Biafora attended the ribbon cutting Thursday afternoon and was excited to see the community support for the culinary academy moving in. While he and his brother have celebrated many victories in the development of the commons, he said having a trade school presence on the property has been something he’s wanted since the beginning.

“Having any type of adult schools is tremendous for the synergy, the traffic and even the community. The accessibility, the quality of the facility and with the interstate right there, it just couldn’t be better,” David Biafora said. “This has been a dream since we acquired the mall to get a technical school here because they are just so important today. We couldn’t be more proud to have them here.”