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The challenge for the college – space

There are three challenges for Bainbridge College during the next 10 years, BC President Tom Wilkerson told attendees of the monthly Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

“The top three challenges we face are space, space and space,” Wilkerson said.

BC’s student population broke the 4,000 mark last fall, and it’s likely that the student population will double in 10 years, with some predictions putting enrollment between 7,000 to 8,000 students, Wilkerson said.

It took 37 years, from 1973 to 2010, to break the 4,000-population mark. There have been 4,000 graduates from the two-year and technical college during that time.

Wilkerson said the impact of the college is immeasurable. For each of those 4,000 graduates, there are many family and friends whose lives have been touched, so the impact could be quite wide spread and ubiquitous, he said.

On Tuesday, Bainbridge College is expected to have more than 230 students graduate, and Wilkerson is scheduled to deliver the commencement speech at Memorial Coliseum, which will be the last time the ceremony will be held there, as the next graduation will take place at the college’s new Student Wellness Center.

Bainbridge College and its foundation were the sponsors of the breakfast, which was held at the Kirbo Regional Center on the college’s campus.

To lay the ground work for his advocacy for more space at the main campus in Bainbridge and the Early County campus, Wilkerson noted how the college opened in 1973 with 214 students. Its original graduating class had three students and their commencement was held in the library.

The original campus was built with $2.5 million, and then in 1980, the Technical Studies building was completed for $2 million.

The next permanent structure to be built on the campus was the Kirbo Regional Center, which opened in October 2008. Its construction cost was a “bizarre” $15 million, which of course included millions devoted to re-doing and fixing problems associated with the original plans and construction.

“But it’s finished and it’s beautiful,” Wilkerson said.

On June 1 at 10 a.m., the college will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new 10,000-square-foot technical studies annex that houses offices and work areas for the welding, truck driving and electrical wiring programs.

Also, the Board of Regents recently OK’d the college’s purchase of the old bowling lanes at Bainbridge Mall behind Golden Corral for future use by the cosmetology program.

The Student Wellness Center, which is approximately 75,000 square feet and is scheduled to open Nov. 1, will increase the square footage of the Bainbridge campus to more than 250,000 square feet.

“That is still insufficient,” Wilkerson said. “It will almost accommodate the students we have now.”

The college has on its wish-list an academic center that will expand the classroom, laboratory and office space of the college, but since money is tight, Wilkerson said there’s no time frame for when the needed building will be built. Unlike the Student Wellness Center that is being funded by a $125 student fee, the academic building must come from state funds.

To make room, Wilkerson said the college has had to do some creative scheduling, such as have more and more evening classes, Saturday classes and medical clinicals in hospitals located in Dothan, Tallahassee and Albany.

And as the student population is expected to grow, so too should the faculty and staff. Presently, there are 165 full-time faculty and staff, and 75 part-time faculty.

That student growth is a challenge could be said for the Blakely campus as well.

Bainbridge College took over operations of the campus from Albany State in 2006, and at the time it had only 211 students. Today, the Blakely campus is expected to have 1,200 students enrolled in the fall semester, Wilkerson said.

That campus is completing its expansion by 10,000 square feet, and it still may not be enough to accommodate that campus’ growing student population.

But as Wilkerson said: “What a wonderful problem to have, but it’s a problem.”

He said if the issue of space is not more thoroughly addressed, that the college may have to actually say no to students wanting to attend, which would be unacceptable in his view.

Wilkerson also talked about the needs of the College Foundation, which administers scholarships for BC students.

When Wilkerson arrived in 2005, the foundation had $59,000 and didn’t offer any scholarships.

Today it’s raised more than $600,000 and offered 43 scholarships to individual students.

Emory Smith, the college’s director of development, said the goal within the next year is to raise more than $1 million, most of it earmarked for student scholarships.

Smith said the foundation is about to embark on its largest fund-raising campaign, and asked that individuals or businesses consider endowing scholarships.