College looks at new housing options
May 15, 2008
By Tim Simard
Spring classes may have just finished up and the campus might be nearly empty, but for Brent Sargent, dean of the Williston campus of Vermont Technical College, this is the busiest time of year.
"We're accepting students for next year, finishing up the details for this year and we're under construction," Sargent said Monday.
Sargent said the small campus at Blair Park has gone through rapid growth. By the time the fall semester begins in late August, the college's east wing, which faces Route 2A, will undergo drastic improvements. New classrooms, administrative offices, a new library and machine shop are currently being built or have just been finished. The old chemistry lab already in place will move locations within the building.
The college is also in the process of purchasing a three-story office building, located at 72 Helena Drive, next to its campus. Jack Daniels, the college's dean of admissions, hopes the building will allow for even more classroom and office space, as well as double as a small student dormitory.
Daniels said the college hopes to have a purchasing agreement with J.L. Davis Realty by the end of the month.
Sargent said he hopes the changes will make VTC the premier technical college for residents in northern Vermont.
"We have so much to offer here," he said. "We offer a different option for college and we've filled a need that was missing in the Champlain Valley."
The main campus of VTC is located in Randolph, but in an effort to offer classes to people living in the Champlain Valley, VTC opened a Williston campus in the fall of 2003. That year, it had only 32 students enrolled in four associate programs, said Academic Coordinator Jean-Marie Clark. This past 2007-2008 school year, it had 397 full- and part-time students, with 19 associate and bachelor degree programs.
Students can major in subjects as diverse as business management, dental hygiene, software and computer engineering, and nursing. For full-time, in-state students, tuition next year will be $9,288 per semester. According to Clark, VTC has placed 98 percent of its students in related jobs following graduation.
"We really have a program that has hit home with a lot of people in Chittenden County," she said. "Some people want to live at home and work and still go to college. Some don't want to travel all the way to the Randolph location."
Clark said the college offers only night classes and works for students who have full-time jobs, while the Randolph campus has dorms and schedules many classes during the day, like a traditional college.
"The students we have in Williston are looking for cheaper options," she said. "It was generally an adult student base here, although that is slowly, but surely, changing."
Next year, Clark said the student body in Williston will be well over 400 and the school hopes to double that number in the next five years, mirroring the 800 to 900 students enrolled in Randolph.
The larger numbers of students means the need for more space. When the Williston campus started more than four years ago, the college only occupied the current east wing. It has expanded around Blair Park, scooping up retail space as it became available, becoming a 50,000 square-foot campus. Now the original building is being transformed. A new, modest library was completed last month and construction workers are ready to transform the chemistry lab into the Champlain Valley's best machine shop, Sargent said.
"The auto tech program will really be able to use this space," he said. "It's going to be set up like any model or machine shop."
Vermont Interactive Television, which is part of VTC, will remain in its West Wing space, but Champlain Orthodontics, a tenant, will be moving to a newer location in Blair Park.
More students have also meant a need for housing. Although VTC in Williston was designed as a commuter school, Sargent said 17 students were housed in the nearby New England Culinary Institute dorms. He expected more than 30 students would utilize the culinary institute's housing next year.
Daniels hopes the possible new addition to VTC on Helena Drive would allow for close to 30 students to stay at the Williston campus. He also said the current tenants of the building would be able to stay there.
"I have to assume that we'd let them stay until their lease is up," Daniels said. "We try very hard to be good neighbors."
Clark said the school has built a strong community, even though it mainly has evening classes. She hopes to see that community continue to grow as the school grows.
"(Students) really like it here," she said. "They like how we all know them personally. You can't hide in a class of only six people. They love the one-on-one instruction."