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August 23, 2018

County considering 50-acre addition to college campus

Photo/Google Earth
Classes started 30 years ago on Lord Fairfax Community College’s campus just south of Warrenton.
Contributed Photo
Although not precise, this image illustrates the general size and location of the land proposed for donation to LFCC. The college buildings stand just southwest of the land.
This kind of donation is a game changer for us, because it allows us to talk about things that honestly, if we were to wait for the money and approval (from the state), it would be a decade or two before we could get there.
— LFCC Fauquier Provost Chris Coutts
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Staff Journalist
He called a proposal to double the size of Lord Fairfax Community College’s Fauquier campus a “game changer.”

“It could open up many possibilities,” including the development of a trade skills and education center and a student union, among others uses, LFFC-Fauquier Provost Chris Coutts said.

A feasibility study would precede any commitments, Dr. Coutts stressed.

Discussions of a potential land-donation agreement remain in the early stages. But, depending on how the talks unfold, Fauquier’s board of supervisors by the year’s end could donate 50 acres, adjacent to the campus just south of Warrenton, to the LFCC Educational Foundation.

The deal would require approval of the foundation’s board.

County Administrator Paul McCulla and Dr. Coutts first discussed the idea about six months ago. Both characterized it as a “concept” that needs more work.

“The devil’s in the details,” said Mr. McCulla, who initiated the land-donation idea.

But county government conditions for any agreement likely would require the LFCC foundation to return the 50-acre property to Fauquier if it fails to use it for community college purposes, he said.

Fauquier also could insist the foundation construct an asphalt path through the site that would connect to a larger trail network, according to Mr. McCulla.

Explaining the impetus for the land-donation idea, the county administrator said he believes Fauquier residents shouldn’t have to leave the county to acquire trade skills or take courses that today require travel to LFCC’s Middletown campus or Northern Virginia Community College.

To Mr. McCulla, that meant the Fauquier campus needed more land for expansion.

> Story continues below video

In interviews this week, all five county supervisors spoke favorably of the proposal and/or expressed interest in learning more about related issues and potential benefits to the community.

“They need more trade space and wellness space,” Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) said. “It will let the community college grow . . . . It’s a win for the community college, the county and the residents.”

While he wants to know “more details” about a potential agreement, Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott) called “job development and workforce development” a “great thing.”

“It’s a priority we should be working on,” Mr. Trumbo added.

“I think if you talk to anyone who is looking for help” in construction-related industries, “they’ll say trained help is hard to find,” said board of supervisors Chairman Chris Butler (Lee), the safety director of Gainesville-based contractor S.W. Rodgers Co.

Though he “cannot commit to a trade center, what I can tell you (trade instruction) is our biggest demand,” Dr. Coutts said.

Lacking space, the college conducts electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning classes at the Boys & Girls Club of Fauquier on Keith Street in Warrenton.

For the 2017-18 academic term, 145 people enrolled in those classes, according to the college. In the previous year, 92 participated in the program.

“I think it would have a very positive effect on enrollment,” Dr. Coutts said of a trade center. “And, the other side of enrollment is retention. So, not only would it attract new students, but it would help the students that we have stay with us.”

In 2017-18, the Fauquier campus enrollment totaled 2,986, according to the provost. That includes credit, non-credit and dual-enrolled students.

A student union would add significantly to the quality of campus life, Dr. Coutts suggested.

“In the case of the student union, if there’s no place to hang out, grab some food, relax — it’s not as attractive being on campus.”

Donating land to the foundation would permit the nonprofit to “essentially set up some public/private partnerships” to fund new projects a lot more quickly than through the state capital review and budget process, Dr. Coutts said.

“This kind of donation is a game changer for us, because it allows us to talk about things that, honestly, if we were to wait for the money and approval (from the state), it would be a decade or two before we could get there.”

The foundation’s method to build the LFCC student union center at the Middletown campus represents a kind of model — an approach that allows the nonprofit full control over such projects.

Bypassing the commonwealth’s cumbersome review system — and statewide political jockeying for limited funds — the eliminates years from conception to completion of capital projects.

The foundation received a 20-acre donation, secured a $9-million loan, hired an architect and selected the contractor, which completed a two-story 31,800-student union on the Middletown campus in about 12 months. It opened January 2014.

Over the next 10 years, the foundation expects to the repay the loan with $3 million in donations, lease payments from the community college for use of the student union, vendor income and commission payments from the bookstore.

“We’re more or less on track,” Executive Director Liv Heggoy said.

Ideally, Fauquier campus improvements would be debt-free, Dr. Coutts said.

It appears as if the foundation will do that with LFCC’s planned academic and administrative center in Luray. Using $2 million in donations, the 13,000-square-foot building will stand on an eight-acre donated site in that town 45 miles west of Warrenton.

The building, which will include classrooms, trade labs and faculty space, probably will be completed by the end of 2019, Ms. Heggoy said.

Mr. McCulla’s land-donation idea took him by surprise, Dr. Coutts said.

“I never saw it coming. The way that Paul explained it, he and the county really value the community college and really want to see us grow.

“And they’re looking at all ideas to support us. It was just wonderful to hear. It’s really thrilling.”

“I think Chris and I are very excited by the prospect of” the proposed land donation “being placed in the hands of an entity that will be able to develop a project much faster than the state,” Mr. McCulla said.

The Fauquier campus this year marks its 30th anniversary. Real estate investor and developer Bob Sowder, who lives near Vint Hill, donated 2-1/2 acres, The Barn and $90,000 to renovate the structure for classrooms. LFCC and Germanna Community College jointly began offering classes there in 1988.

Fauquier County later gave the community college 45 acres. The General Assembly in 1992 approved full campus status for the Fauquier property, which shifted entirely to LFCC. Wolk Hall, the main academic building constructed with state funds and local donations, opened in 1999.

Construction soon will begin on Hazel Hall, a 40,000-square-foot science and technology building. It will cost $20 million.
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