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Looking toward the future: Master planning process starts for SCC’s Webster campus

fr sccplanSouthwestern Community College is in the business of dreaming big as it works through the preliminary stages of a master plan to guide its development over the next five to 10 years. 

With a master plan for the Macon County campus created in 2013, SCC is now looking to the future of its Jackson and Swain county campuses, with a final plan expected sometime around January. 

“One of the impetuses for this master plan process is making sure this institution sends a really clear message not just to the legislators that represent this area but the Legislature as a whole that we’ve got our act together, we know where we’re going and what our priorities are,” said Michael Cole, the landscape architect working on the plan.

Cole, of Charlotte-based ColeJenest & Stone, is working with architect Scott Baker, of LS3P’s Charlotte office, on the project. The two have worked on master plans for community colleges throughout North Carolina in past years, so they’ve got the process down. During a trip to Western North Carolina last week, they spent three days in Jackson County hoping to dial down on the needs and opportunities of the Webster campus, which is the flagship location for SCC. 

“We’re trying to come up with the ingredients to create something, but we have to listen to what the needs and desires and issues are,” Cole explained. 

To that end, the two met with groups of students, staff, faculty, community leaders and members of the board of trustees to hear from the people most involved in the school what they’d like to see happen in the future. An input session open to the community was also scheduled, but nobody participated. 

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Much of the discussion with stakeholders involved connectivity and ease of navigation around campus, Baker said. Those are important concerns, he added, not just for aesthetics and for visitors to the campus who come for conferences and special events, but for the college’s many nontraditional students who enroll later in life to pursue their education. 

“Some of them might be a bit intimidated to come back on this big campus and there are all these buildings —  where do I go what do I do?” Baker said. “For some students if they’re having to drive around and don’t know where to go to and where to park, it could be very easy that a student say, ‘Forget this. I’m just going to stay at my job.’”

 Baker and Cole are considering improved signage — a large aesthetic sign at the new entrance declaring that this is Southwestern Community College, signs differentiating SCC’s Boulevard and Webster Road entrances, more detailed signs on campus pointing toward specific buildings — as part of the master plan. 

They’ve also suggested more focus on connectivity through walking paths and creation of a central area on campus as possibilities. 

Planning for future growth is part of the brainstorming process as well. Because SCC’s Webster campus is basically built into a hillside, Cole and Baker had to go through and identify the pieces of campus that would even be capable of holding new buildings as SCC’s enrollment and programming grow. As they go through the feedback they’ve received and work toward the next step of the planning process, they’ll be working to determine what kinds of future building needs SCC might have — in terms of both physical needs like a new boiler for the Balsam Building and expansion of programming. 

“Nationwide as our population ages, the need for qualified health people is growing and growing,” Baker said, giving an example of a possible area for growth. “There’s a lot of emphasis on health professions.”

By design, community colleges are responsive to the community in the programs they offer, with their goal being to train local people locally, so they don’t have to leave home to learn the skills they need to succeed professionally. 

“As you grow the college, you can also grow the community,” said Cliff Statler, SCC’s vice president for financial and administrative services. “Our tech programs are really strong. Our automotive people, they’re employed before they even get out the door.” 

Planning for equipment and technology will also be part of the process. For instance, over the coming decade, what will happen to textbooks in a world gone increasingly digital? What kind of technological equipment and systems will SCC need to have available to remain competitive?

There will be plenty more questions for Baker and Cole to answer as they take the information gleaned from their trip to WNC back to Charlotte. 

“We’re going to go back and take just a plethora of information and boil it down and synthesize it and then start developing some very rough bubble ideas,” Cole said. 

Then the two will take those rough ideas back up to the mountains and run them by the students, staff and community members who inspired them in the first place. 

“Once we get that input once again, then we create a final master plan,” Cole said. 

It’s still early in the process, but the two are complimentary of what SCC has going so far and look forward to seeing what the future holds. 

“It’s kind of exciting because the college is really taking a visionary approach to their growth,” Cole said, “and they’re very concerned, not just about the programming, but the image of the college and how the community connects with the college.”

Coverage of the team’s master planning work for SCC’s Swain campus appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Smoky Mountain News. 



Give your input

Due to low attendance at the Sept. 22 community input session, another forum will be held the evening of Thursday, Oct. 29, to hear community members’ thoughts on the future of Southwestern Community College’s Webster campus. Meeting details will be finalized closer to the time. or 828.339.4000.

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