WEST JEFFERSON-Community support to persuade Wilkes Community College officials to consider relocating the Ashe Campus to the empty Jefferson Station building in downtown West Jefferson is beginning to build.
WCC officials, however, said they are not seriously considering any particular location at this point in time and are seeking additional input from the community before making any decision.
Currently, the community college is housed in an aging metal building, which has undergone several upgrades and additions, behind the Ashe County High School.
In April, Chris Robinson, president of the Ashe Campus, confirmed that college officials toured Jefferson Station.
It is one of several sites WCC visited during that time, he said.
At that time, Robinson didn’t comment on whether the Jefferson Station site could be a viable home for the Ashe campus in the future.
The town itself, however, is beginning to voice its opinion on the matter.
In May, the West Jefferson Business Association passed a resolution in support of the campus relocation to the downtown area.
“Our organization’s members and our board of directors have heard a presentation about the college’s relocation plans, along with information about a potential site in downtown West Jefferson,” the resolution reads. “All those attending were favorably impressed with the prospect of having the campus facility in the location known as Jefferson Station and the anticipated benefits for existing businesses in downtown West Jefferson from having this facility in this location would be numerous.”
The resolution also referred possible reservations with any proposed relocation, including the limited number of parking spaces near the building. It also stated that a viable solution to that problem appears to be within reach.
In an interview with the Jefferson Post, WCC President Jeff Cox took time to address what he sees as a “rumor mill” concerning any talks about the proposed move to Jefferson Station.
“I’ve actually heard this some time ago,” said Cox. “We’ve been asked to come talk to a group, the West Jefferson Land Company about this.”
The WJLC is a non profit entity filed in Dec. 2013 with the Secretary of State’s office as a legacy affiliate of the town’s bicentinneal celebration commission. The group is suppose to meet with college officials to make the case for Jefferson Station, said Cox.
“We will come up and have that conversation; our options are open,” said Cox. “We haven’t committed to any particular location as of yet.”
Cox also said the college is organizing a committee of its own to gather direction from the community on where WCC should go in terms of expansion or new construction.
WCC was the not the first entity to at least examine Jefferson Station as a potential new home.
YMCA became interested in utilizing the downtown location to offer health and recreational opportunities for the county’s population in 2014 when Curt Hazelbaker, president and CEO of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, appeared before the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen.
Since the meeting, the YMCA had been working to determine what the needs of the community are and finding a location for a potential YMCA. In August 2015, Jefferson Station was taken off the table when owner Tom Banks withdrew his offer to allow the organization to purchase the property.
While plans for an expanded Ashe Campus have been on the minds of WCC officials for several years, it didn’t become a feasible possibility until recently with a commitment from the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to contribute up to $6 million for the project, along with help from the state’s new Connect N.C. Bond package.
Giving its proximity and availability to town, Jefferson Station could be an enticing option for the college.
Altogether, the building could provide up to 75,000 square feet in floor space.
For years, the building housed portions of Thomasville Chair Factory before closing and making way for a downtown shopping center. The idea for the shopping center was slow to catch on and soon faded as merchants flocked elsewhere.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.