Sandhills Community College Continues Rapid Growth
Looking for a bright spot in the grim economic picture?
Go to Sandhills Community College. That's where the action is.
The new horticulture building will soon open. A new maintenance building and a new classroom building are in the future, and work should begin soon on the second phase of the capital improvement plan, with an emergency services training center.
"It's a good time at Sandhills," said Dr. John Dempsey, college president. "Things are as good at Sandhills as they've ever been. Our situation is actually a good one."
Dempsey made those comments last month during the budget planning mini-retreat held by the Moore County Board of Commissioners at the airport. His report injected a positive note in a day filled with grim reports of funding needs and shortfalls.
Despite a 20 percent cut in budget, the college has been hiring a few employees including four faculty members. In the second semester, the college will probably swear in four members of the new campus security force.
And The New York Times has already sent a news crew to the campus to focus on college programs for an upcoming news feature.
"It's good to have news (people) there for a program, not a scandal," Dempsey said.
The college is considering a women's softball team as part of a revitalized athletics program. He reminded the board that the college recently adopted a team name, the Sandhills Flyers, recognizing the address on Airport Road.
In fact, the college is growing faster than the bond issues of recent years or the private donations can catch up with the needs.
With unemployment high because of the recession, the college has experienced hefty growth in enrollment by adults seeking training in new occupations. Sandhills now has an enrollment in excess of 4,300 in the curriculum program. Not too long ago, that total was 2,500.
These figures do not include the more than 15,000 adults who are on campus annually for a broad variety of continuing education programs.
"And it shows no sign of changing," Dempsey said.
Two original buildings scheduled for demolition, Blue Hall and Causey Hall, will remain in use because the college cannot spare the lost space while building new structures, he told the commissioners.
"We can't lose the space because of growth," he said.
The buildings are named in honor of college founding fathers H. Clifton Blue and Ed Causey, both now deceased.
Dempsey reported that the college now delivers about 15 percent of its teaching/studying hours online, a factor that enables the enrollment to grow without a companion need for additional parking lots.
"Morale is high," Dempsey said.
He reported that classes and programs conducted on the Hoke County campus are also going well. He said this is especially true since the college constructed a building of its own in Hoke County.
All this good news is accompanied by financial need, and Dempsey said the college is looking at ways to save money. SCC is examining the prospect of securing federal stimulus money to improve energy efficiency.
Commissioners' Chairman Tim Lea asked if the college would be able to assume responsibility for the visitors' center in the Westmoore community if the N.C. Department of Transportation carries through with plans to drop financial support at the end of June.
Dempsey said the college would be interested, but there would be expense. He said the college would be interested in assuming a fair share of the expense and explained that eventually Sandhills probably could use the Westmoore property to offer cosmetology classes and possibly for a ballfield. These programs would need restrooms.
The college now operates a satellite campus in the facility originally built as the Westmoore Agri-Civic Center on N.C. 705 in the northern part of the county. The building was financed with economic development money.
The area centers what is known as "Pottery Country" because of the large number of potteries clustered in the area. N.C. 705 has also been designated the Pottery Highway.
With the potteries already a major tourism attraction, NCDOT was persuaded to operate a small rest stop near the center. But NCDOT recently announced that it will close the Westmoore rest stop. The state agency cited economic concerns and the future opening of visitors' centers on nearby U.S. 220, soon to be developed as Interstate 73-74.
Property owners have protested the closing and are seeking other avenues to continue the rest stop.
Although the college would be interested in assuming some responsibility for the operational costs there, Dempsey pointed out that there would be additional costs for such things as liability and security.
Lea expressed the hope that NCDOT will deed the property back to the county.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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