Eastern Gateway Community College looking to the future

STEUBENVILLE — Eastern Gateway Community College President Jimmie Bruce said he needed to address rumors circulating through the community Wednesday before he got down to the business of the night: The board’s interest in seeing a campus expansion that would benefit students, staff and community.

“I want to quell all the rumors,” Bruce told several dozen community leaders attending the community forum. “We’re not working with any developer, we’re not working with any company or any business. What you’re going to see tonight are concepts -we had someone put them on paper and visualize them for us. (There’s no) agreement with any particular entity or business.”

Bruce and board members Angela Mastros, Kathy A. Maguschak and B.J. Nurczyk Jr., who represent Jefferson County, took pains to reassure onlookers they don’t want to do anything that would upset area residents.

“We (need) to get the word out what our vision is,” Mastros said. “It’s not to put in strip malls, it’s to expand our campus and enhance it for students, employees and community.”

Bruce said they envision a phased development, one that eventually will extend the campus from “John Scott all the way to the (Robert) D’Anniballe building.”

“It would almost double the footprint of what we have now,” he said. “Whatever ends up in the space needs to be multi-purpose.”

He said while there might be a retail component — say, a restaurant that could serve students and staff as well as passersby — he insists there will be a strong academic component, admitting they’ve already had internal discussions about the need to address things like the cramped, awkwardly laid out radiology and dental assisting program spaces on the Steubenville campus.

“Those are two huge needs we have,” Bruce said, adding they’d like to expand the radiography lab to include ancillary training, like magnetic resonance imaging. The dental assisting program offers services like cleaning, X-rays, fluoride treatments and fillings to community residents.

He also told the group the college now has more employees than can fit in its largest lecture hall, which seats 300, so at some point in the development they’d like to see some sort of conference center or fieldhouse opportunity that could host college and community activities.

“There needs to be a place students and employees can use, but we also want it to serve the community (and be) something we can all get excited about,” Bruce said.

“We’ve got to collect feedback,” he added. “We want to do what’s best, figure out what’s best, for EGCC and what’s best for Jefferson County citizens. None of this happens without funding, we have to figure out a financing plan going forward.”

Local resident Beth Rupert-Warren suggested a hotel and conference center, pointing out the hotels already in the University Boulevard area often fill up and have to send travelers across the river to Weirton to get rooms.

“It might be very enticing for the right hotel chain when they look at all the infrastructure,” she said. “It would be a win-win, somebody else’s investment. That’s just a thought.”

Bruce said that was “a new idea.”

“I can tell you that isn’t something that’s come up in any of our discussions,” he said.

Ed Florak, a former president of the college, pointed out Bruce had “mentioned some retail,” but with employers increasingly looking for special technology skillsets in their work force, he suggested they look at the possibility of working with, say, Carnegie Mellon University to develop programs in the area of robotics.

Robert Naylor, local attorney and board chair of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, suggested forming some type of a tax-exempt organization at some point “that will allow others to buy into” the college’s vision. He said it’s a formula that has proven successful in other communities, citing the nonprofit RLA Learning & Conference Center at Cranberry Woods in Pennsylvania. He also noted RLA sources local retailers when possible.

“In the future you’re going to have to run a levy campaign,” Florak added. “You may want to put your ear to the ground and make sure that (before) you move forward with potential competition (to established retailers)…you don’t offend voters.”

“We don’t want to jeopardize it at all,” Bruce replied, pointing out no decisions have been made so it’s possible there wouldn’t even be a restaurant on site. “We actually want…to enhance connections the college has with the community.”

“You don’t want to give voters a reason not to vote for the levy,” Florak reiterated.”

“Whatever ends up here has to bring enhanced value for the community,” Bruce agreed.

Mastros said the board envisions “something that will benefit the community and students, something that students, employees and the community will enjoy,” while Maguschak said it was “important to get feedback” from the community. Both are Jefferson County residents.

“This is a college that has a long history of support in the community,” Bruce added. “We don’t want to jeopardize that at all, we want to enhance it. We don’t want to turn it into a strip mall. We want whatever we do to be integrated into what the college is all about.”

Bruce said the hope is that, whatever the board decides, “it will help bring students in and enhance the campus.” He said the board has not intention of “going out and selling (land) to the highest bidder.”

“We’re (trying to) figure out what is the right way to construct this project,” he said. “We’d like to develop a revenue stream. Our goal is enhancement of the campus.”

Florak reminded Bruce the land on which EGCC sits was given to them with the proviso that it had to be used for education.

“If it’s anything else, it reverts back to the county,” he added.

But Bruce said they’ve already had several preliminary discussions with the county commissioners.

“That provision is still there,” he said. “We’ve had conversations about how we can operate within that restriction. There has to be educational components in whatever we do, we know that.”

Naylor said afterward that, properly structured, “I think there’s potential for work force development and collaboration with other academic institutions.”

“I think it’s encouraging from a business standpoint as well as a resident’s standpoint,” he added. “If we can get people trained and show how we have a ready work force, then we can attract large employers and broaden our area’s tax base.”

Mastros said she’d hoped for a bigger turnout but said they will schedule additional meetings to get public input. There’s also opportunities for public comment at the board’s meetings. It’s critical, she said, because “we know this space belongs to the community.”

“We depend on the levy, we do rely on it for survival,” she said.