An Opportunity for Everybody
The ribbon-cutting for the new Dare County College of the Albemarle (COA) community college campus was held in early April, and what was unveiled is a remarkable state-of-the-art learning center. Located in the heart of Manteo on land that at one time was occupied by the old Manteo Middle School, the new campus is home to a completely renovated art building and the new education center building.
It is the new building that is, perhaps, the most impressive structure on the college campus.
The facility features computer labs, chemistry labs, and training areas for medical arts and nursing students that have the look and feel of hospital rooms. There are lecture halls and perhaps most importantly, every room is capable of transmitting and receiving lectures and instruction on a high-definition tv.
One of the more significant features of the classrooms is the flexibility that has been designed into them. Rather than have a room that can only be used for a lecture or a lab, classrooms are designed to enable a wide variety of instruction or uses.
Perhaps as extraordinary as anything else, in spite of supply chain issues and the accelerating cost of goods, the building was completed slightly ahead of schedule and on budget.
It has been an amazing journey to get to this point, and considerable credit has to go to Dare County and the county commissioners.
The groundbreaking for the facility was in December of 2020, but the seeds of the project were planted in 2017 when the governing board of COA asked Dare County Chair of the Board of Commissioners Bob Woodard if the county would be willing to help finance a capital project to renovate and update the Dare Campus.
The main campus of COA is in Elizabeth City and many of the classes needed for associate degrees and certificates were only available at the main campus. For students living in northern Dare County, the hour to hour and a half trip was inconvenient and difficult. For Hatteras Island residents, it was an insurmountable barrier. Woodard in his speech at the ribbon-cutting recalled that he made it clear that the Dare Campus had to be able to handle all of the courses the college offered.
“I expressed my personal concern that Dare County would not be willing to do this without assurances from COA that Dare students could take all of their classes in Dare County and not have to travel to Elizabeth City,” he said.
With assurance in place, he presented the concept to the commissioners who gave the project their enthusiastic support.
“I had no problem convincing my board to support this project. Every one of them is about educating your children and everyone,” Woodard said.
The commissioners, though, did more than simply underwrite the project. They agreed to fund the majority of the $20 million project, investing $16 million in county funds.
The $16 million dollar investment is by a considerable margin, the largest dollar investment the county has made in COA, but it is not the only investment they have provided in helping local students earn their degrees and certificates. In 2019 the commissioners voted to pay the tuition for any student who graduated from a Dare County school and wished to attend COA.
“Our board took it to the next level to make sure our students could come to this campus thanks to the $250,000 in scholarship funding, as provided annually by this board of commissioners, making it possible for eligible students who recently graduated high school to attend the College of the Albemarle with no out of pocket costs for tuition,” Woodard said.
Dr. Jack Bagwell, President of COA spoke of what the campus and new buildings will mean for the school during a preview of the building before the ribbon cutting. He recalled an interview he conducted when he was in the community college system in South Carolina. A student who was turning her life around recounted what she thought originally about the school.
“I would drive by your campus…and I would think to myself, ‘I don’t know who goes there, but it’s not people like me,” he was told.
“That’s not what community college is,” he declared. “We don’t want people driving by looking at this beautiful building and thinking that it’s not for people like me. It is for exactly people like whoever is driving by. We have trade opportunities. We’ve got transfer (opportunities). People leave here and go directly to the shipyard…They’re going to go to Duke University…We’ve got an opportunity for everybody…We want people on this campus to experience the family that is COA.”
The campus was originally scheduled to begin student activity in the fall semester. However, because the building was finished ahead of schedule, some summer classes may be held on the new campus, although that decision had not been made at the time of the ribbon-cutting.