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News Education Southwestern looking to double size of its Macon campus

With more than 1,000 students from Macon County registering for classes at Southwestern Community College during the 2012-13 school year, President Don Tomas recently spoke to commissioners about the importance of expanding the Macon Campus. With 488 students from Macon County enrolled for the fall semester, enrollment at the Macon Campus was at an all time high.

“Since 2007, the Macon campus has experienced a 74.4 percent increase, averaging about a 12 percent increase per year,” explained Tomas. “Out of the total number of students enrolled at Southwestern, 813 are from Macon County and 515 attend classes at the Groves Center. We have already outgrown the Groves building and are currently in the process of creating a master plan of what the expansion here would look like.”

Currently housed on 20 acres, the expansion SCC is eyeing will double the campus’ size and utilize 40 acres of county owned property.

Tomas informed commissioners that the area targeted for growth is centered around the Public Safety and Training Center courses offered at SCC. The Public Safety Training Center has seen an increase in enrollment of 72.9 percent over the last six years, averaging a 12 percent increase per year in enrollment numbers. With the significant demands on the program, Tomas informed commissioners that new facilities needed to be constructed to accommodate the growth.

The rough rendering of Tomas’ expectations for an expansion calls for a 35,000 square foot addition to the existing building on the Macon Campus, which will allow the facility to be able to offer the same curriculum and programs as the Jackson campus. The second portion of the plan, noted to be Phase 1A, calls for the construction of a 50,000 square foot Public Safety Training Center Building, and a 33,000 square foot facility to include an indoor firing range for students. Tomas informed commissioners that countless departments currently use SCC's firearm training facilities, which is outdoors, and an indoor range would better suit the department's needs. Phase 1C would include the construction of a 5,000 square foot facility to house EMS and firetrucks for the purpose of training for SCC, but would also be made available to public entities.

By expanding the Macon campus, Tomas hopes to not only be able to better serve the education needs of Macon County students, but he hopes to provide a facility that the community at large will benefit from.

Phase 1 of the project is expected to manage the school's growth for the next eight years. With a 10 percent enrollment increase projected over the next 20 years, Tomas presented commissioners with a master plan to accommodate future students. The master plan Tomas presented includes Phase 2 and 3, which call for additional expansions over the next 25 years.

In order for the plan to be feasible, an archaeological scrape was conducted on the property and showed that the project should be able to be completed without disturbing any historical Native American artifacts. The property identified by Tomas for the expansion is county owned property that is currently not being utilized. Tomas hopes to work out a property swap or lease agreement with the county to make the plan a reality.

SCC also works with local industries to provide workforce training. One of their newest courses, the casino dealer course, is a seven to eight-week course that trains students on the ins and outs of card dealing. For $175, participants can take the course and receive training needed to gain employment from Harrah's Cherokee Casino. The workforce training program at SCC has seen a 36.4 percent increase over the last five years of enrollment. This academic year, the workforce training program has seen a total of 6,359 Macon County residents enrolled.

In addition to the innovative programs that SCC provides to the community, the school also works closely to ensure that students can afford a secondary education. According to Tomas, 60 percent of the students who attend SCC receive financial aid of some kind. SCC also works directly with local school districts through the New Century Scholar Program to provide scholarships for students who qualify.

Although Tomas' presentation was given to be informative, commissioners agreed to work in scheduling a date for a special work session with the SCC Board to further discuss the partnership for expansion of the Macon campus sometime this month.


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