SCC plans for Macon campus expansion
Dr. Don Tomas likes to be ahead of the curve.
As Southwestern Community College celebrates 50 years, Tomas, who has been SCC’s presidents for three years, continues to look ahead and plan for the future.
“It’s an important thing for us to be visionary — to plan ahead,” said Tomas. “It allows us to stay ahead of the curve instead of coming from behind.”
Consolidating and expanding the Macon County SCC campus is part of that future vision and plans are in the works to make it happen.
It’s something Macon County officials and Tomas are both excited about. Macon County plans to present a memorandum of understanding at the commissioners’ meeting on April 14 that will allow SCC to use county property free of charge for its expansion on Siler Road in Franklin.
“I’ve been very much in favor of that action,” said Macon County Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin.
He added that the original plan was to deed the land to the school based on today’s values, but after talking to the county attorney, the county decided to wait until SCC receives state funding for the expansion to convey the land.
“It would be more valuable to tie it up with the MOU — saying we’re not going to use it for another purpose — and convey land at the time SCC can get state funding. That way they can use the land value as grant matching money.”
SCC opened its first facility in Macon County in 1990. Even with three buildings being used now, the need continues to grow. The majority of curriculum classrooms are located at the 28,000-square-foot Grove Center on Siler Road. The agreement with the county would give the community college 22 more adjacent acres to use. That property will give SCC the space to move its other two Macon facilities to the Siler Road location.
Tomas said the Jerry Sutton Public Safety Training Center, located at the Macon County Industrial Park, is quickly outgrowing its 16,000-square-foot building. The facility is also landlocked by the industrial complex.
The other SCC building — referred to as the annex — is located at the Macon County Courthouse and mostly used for GED classes and basic skills training. Consolidating all these facilities to one location will form the base for a growing Macon County campus.
“We’ve been working on this for a little over a year now,” Tomas said. “It’s part of our 30-year master plan, but we can’t do all at one time. It will grow with the population and the need.”
The public safety training complex gets tremendous use with training programs for law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel and for the National Park Service. Tomas said people come from all over the nation to take these training programs because there are fewer than 10 of these training facilities in the country.
“It houses law enforcement training and continuing education for certification for law enforcement agencies,” Tomas said. “It’s a really exciting program and they’ve really outgrown their facility with the amount of requirements for additional programs that the Park Service has requested.”
Phase one of the Macon County expansion plan would build an additional curriculum building at the Grove Center. Tomas said the campus specifically needs more dedicated space for science lab classes. At the same time, work would begin to build a new 48,000-square-foot public safety and training facility.
“We’re going to double and triple the size of what they have now — we’re looking at 48,000 square feet,” Tomas said.
Tomas said Macon County students make up a significant portion of the curriculum, continuing education and certification student population. SCC’s service area includes Macon, Jackson and Swain counties. Curriculum students — those pursuing a two-year associate’s degree — make up about 3,500 of the school’s total annual population.
The community college has about 10,000 students annually when counting those seeking certifications, continuing education and public safety training programs. When looking at a three-year average, about 430 students come from Macon County to the Jackson County campus in Webster for classes.
While it is possible for Macon County students to take all the classes needed to transfer to a four-year college at SCC’s current Macon County facilities, Tomas said it could be difficult because of the limited number of classes offered any given semester. Some classes are also offered online, but otherwise, students have to travel to Jackson to get all their credits.
“The intent is for students to get an associate’s degree there without having to come over to Jackson County,” he said.
Tomas said it is too early to know exactly where the funding will come from to expand the Macon County campus. A state-issued bond is a likely option — the same type of bond that helped SCC pay for the construction of the Burrell building at the Jackson campus. The $8.8 million building was completed in 2012 and features 10 classrooms, a campus bookstore, a conference center with a 400-person seating capacity and administrative offices.
“The ideal situation is that the state would pass another bond in the future to build those facilities,” Tomas said. “But it’s far too early to estimate what the requirements would be. There’s also other sources from grants, but we’ll take it one step at a time.”
In 2013, Macon County contributed $17,500 to developing a 30-year plan for SCC’s Macon campus.
Macon County and the other counties SCC serves also make annual contributions to SCC based on population. Swain County Manager Kevin King said the county contributed $155,000 last year plus $15,000 for a Swain County campus custodial position that is a part of the county operations.
In 2013-14, Macon County contributed a total of $448,563 to SCC — $200,000 went to support the Jackson County campus while the rest supported the Macon campus. Corbin said the county began contributing $200,000 to SCC more than 20 years ago when Macon didn’t have a campus and most Macon students travelled over the mountain to Sylva to attend classes.
“It’s something we did because all our kids were going there,” he said.
But during last year’s budget process when looking for places to cut, County Manager Derek Roland asked commissioners if they wanted to continue to fund $200,000 to the Jackson campus when they are now contributing to the Macon campus.
Corbin said the cut in funding didn’t mean Macon County didn’t want to continue to support the college, which he said is apparent in the county’s plan to deed 22 acres to SCC for the expansion. Whether Macon County will restore the $200,000 in SCC funding is still up in the air.
“Nothing’s off the table,” Corbin said. “We are just starting the budget process and getting preliminary budget requests.”