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Northwest Arkansas Community College mulling Washington County campus expansion

by Mary Jordan | November 13, 2021 at 7:32 a.m.
Students walk across campus at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville in this file photo.

BENTONVILLE -- Northwest Arkansas Community College is considering an expansion to its Washington County campus, which opened last year.

Evelyn Jorgenson, the college's president, shared initial details on the potential expansion Friday at a meeting of the Land Use Committee of the college's Board of Trustees.

The Washington County location opened in 2020 and houses courses in general education, nursing, health information management and emergency medical responder and emergency medical technician. It's also home to the college's high school concurrent program.

The expansion could cost up to $6 million and would add more than 11,000 square feet to the existing Washington County building, said Al Massri, vice president of finance and administration.

The two-story addition would be made on the east side of the building and would support teaching spaces, labs and office spaces, he said.

The possible expansion would be funded by the Excellerate Foundation, a Springdale-based nonprofit, Jorgenson said. The foundation invests in Northwest Arkansas' prosperity by supporting secondary education, health and well-being initiatives, as well as community building among the region's diverse residents, according to its website.

Jorgenson said it's too early to say how the college may contribute to funding the expansion as well, explaining it will require supporting additional students and hiring staff to meet growing needs.

The expansion would allow the college to double the number of registered nursing students it can support annually to 240, said Ricky Tompkins, vice president of learning. The increase will help meet the growing needs of the region, Jorgenson said.

"We need jobs filled, and we need qualified people to fill those jobs," she said.

The possible expansion could be completed within the next two years, Jorgenson said.

The Excellerate Foundation also will be funding support services for the college's students through the Upskill NWA program, Jorgenson said. Upskill NWA will expand the local workforce for high demand industries and provide a path to higher-wage jobs for lower income families, according to a foundation press release. The Excellerate Foundation and Walton Family Foundation are providing $3 million for a three-year rollout of the program.

The program will launch in January with 100 participants, according to the release. Upskill NWA will provide assistance with tuition, supplies and fees, as well as connect participants to additional services like rental assistance, child care and transportation.

Such services will allow access to higher education for people who may not have previously had the opportunity, Tompkins said.

"It really can change the trajectory of families," Jorgenson said of ensuring students can meet needs such as transportation and child care while attending college.

In other news, the college has been invited to apply for a private grant to build an outdoor classroom on its main campus in Bentonville, said Liz Anderson, executive director of advancement. She declined to name the grant provider.

The potential classroom would be located north of the Center for Health Professions building close to the Butterfly Garden and pond, Jorgenson said.

The space would be designed to serve up to 30 students at a time and would have the ability to support classes such as art, biology and botany, Jorgenson said. The size of the potential space is yet to be determined.

The Board of Trustees approved the outdoor classroom in 1996, pending funding, she said.

"The current Board of Trustees, I'm sure, would like to have some input on that," Jorgenson said.

Joe Spivey, board member, said he'd like the space to be designed to meet the growing needs of the campus.

"Build for the future, not just for now," he told the committee.

Spivey asked the committee to bring an environmentally responsible design that's conducive to the surrounding landscape to the board for approval.

It's too early to determine a timeline for the potential project, Anderson said, as the college still has to apply for the grant. College administrators would still have to consult with architects and obtain Land Use Committee and board approval before moving forward if the grant is approved.

Northwest Arkansas Community College is the largest two-year college in the state with an enrollment of more than 7,000 students.

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