A groundbreaking partnership between Virginia Highlands Community College and Wytheville Community College soon will allow Smyth County residents to complete general education courses at a newly renovated facility in downtown Marion, town officials announced Thursday.
The two colleges will share space at the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Art, currently under renovation and set to open in early 2015. The second floor of the Henderson School will formally be named Virginia Highlands and Wytheville Community Colleges at the Summit Center for Higher Education. The first classes at the new college facility, which will feature 6,500 square feet of office and classroom space equipped with state-of-the-art instructional technology, will be offered beginning with the fall 2015 semester.
“We are tremendously excited to partner with our community colleges to bring general education courses to our town,” said Marion mayor David P. Helms. “This is part of our overall economic development strategy to increase the educational and work opportunities for our citizens. In addition to the classes being offered, the new students, faculty and staff will add even more vibrancy to our community, supporting our local businesses, and it’s all part of the exciting growth we're enjoying here in Marion.”
Thursday’s announcement is the result of discussions that were initiated by Marion town leaders more than a year ago in an effort to enhance the educational opportunities available to the residents of Smyth County, which is on the periphery of both the VHCC and WCC service regions. The unique partnership will allow students to take classes at their college’s main campus or at the newly renovated center closer to home. Video conferencing equipment will also make it possible to link classrooms at the various locations.
College leaders have pledged to work together to schedule a wide variety of classes and to ensure they do not duplicate efforts. The unique arrangement means both VHCC and WCC will offer classes at the new center and students from either college may enroll. Students will learn side by side, but will receive credit from their home college.
“By working together and combining resources, we’re able to offer a greater variety of classes for students who can benefit from the convenience of a classroom close to home,” said Dr. Gene C. Couch Jr., president of VHCC. “I’m confident this partnership will allow both colleges to better serve Smyth County students and those from nearby communities.”
Dr. Charlie White, president of Wytheville Community College agreed, adding that the convenient location makes perfect sense for the community.
“This historic building in the heart of Marion is an ideal location for the two colleges to come together,” he said. “The planned renovations will transform this old building into a modern learning facility with easy access to a wide variety of community resources.”
Originally built as the first high school in Marion, the century-old schoolhouse was in a state of disrepair a few years ago and slated for demolition to make room for a parking facility. When town residents learned of the plans, they launched a campaign to save the historic structure.
A $1-million Community Development Block Grant was secured from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development in 2009 for exterior repairs, and more recent funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission will fund interior renovations. Total renovations for the building and a nearby parking deck will be about $2 million.
When construction is completed early next year, The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Art will be located on the lower levels, and classes there are anticipated in the Spring of 2015. The Summit partnership between VHCC and WCC will equip the upper level next summer and begin offering classes when the fall semester begins in August.
Virginia’s community colleges were established more than 45 years ago to ensure all Virginians have access to higher education within 30 miles of home. VHCC serves the City of Bristol, Washington County and the western portion of Smyth County. WCC serves the remainder of Smyth County, plus the City of Galax and Bland, Carroll, Grayson and Wythe counties. There are 23 community colleges throughout the Commonwealth.