The idea of a restaurant and a commons area where students could meet and eat sounds like a good one to Angie Stanley, a student in Southwestern Community College’s medical respiratory program.
“That really would be nice,” the Sylva resident said. “A lot of people have to leave campus to eat lunch.”
When Stanley packs her lunch, which she often does when there won’t be time to leave campus between classes, she’s forced to eat in a classroom somewhere. That’s because there’s few gathering places for students to congregate.
SCC leaders want to change that by building a central quad, typical of most university campuses, but less so for community colleges. A quad is in the works as part of the new $8 million Burrell Building under construction. It will house a new bookstore plus additional academic and administrative space. It is scheduled to open in August.
But to fully flush out the concept of the quad, SCC hopes to add a commons area to the plan that could serve as a gathering point.
Campus leaders have asked Jackson County commissioners for $580,000 to build a commons area, along with an on-campus restaurant, said SCC President Donald Tomas.
“This would be an extension of the Burrell building, right in the center of campus,” Tomas said.
That sounded good to electrical engineering major Kenny Pleskach.
“I bring my own lunch probably 95 percent of the time, but yeah it would be a cool thing to have a place to eat your lunch,” Pleskatch said, adding that he currently hangs out in one of several gazebos sprinkled about campus.
Money for a quad, but not a commons area and restaurant, is included in the $8 million cost of the Burrell building.
Janet Burnette, a vice president at the college, said the college would lease out the restaurant space to a restaurant entity such as Subway or something similar.
Student questionnaires and surveys have consistently shown food service — or lack thereof — is their top concern on campus, said Delos Monteith, SCC’s institutional research and planning officer.
“We did 10 focus groups and asked students if they could change one thing about SCC what would that be. Overwhelmingly they said food service,” Monteith said.
A commons area combined with the quad would also give the university a central gathering space it currently lacks, Tomas said.
Burnette said if the school does not get the money requested from commissioners it would do “a very scaled back version” of the plan. Drawings and schematics for a full version are being compiled now.
The $580,000 from commissioners would be paired with $580,000 from the state to build the enclosed commons area and restaurant, as well as a few other building items around campus, Tomas said.
County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said that he wished commissioners had known about the capital building needs a bit earlier in the county budget process.
Tomas said that hadn’t occurred because the school had not known until recently that it would have access to state dollars for such a project.
“This spring the state gave us some flexibility on this one-time deal,” Tomas said. “The timing seems right if the monies are there — this project would enhance the campus tremendously.”
The total $1.16 million project would include other construction items as well.
• Renovate another building located in the quad area, the Founders Building, which is the oldest building on campus.
• Add 10 hair stations to the cosmetology department located in the Founders Building.
“It needs some upgrading,” Tomas said of the early 1960s-era building.
SCC received $304,500 in capital funds this year from Jackson County and is asking for a total of $677,000 for the next fiscal year — with the $580,000 earmarked for the special projects.