METAMORA - Northwest State Community College leaders expect enrollment at their new campus center in Metamora to double from 24 to 50 students this month and then to increase tenfold to 500 within a few years.
The community college board agreed last week to spend nearly $2.2 million to renovate the former Evergreen Middle School, which has sections that date back to 1909. The college purchased the building for $1 from Evergreen Local School District about a year ago after the district constructed new buildings.
That work, which is to make the building handicapped-accessible, provide wireless Internet access throughout, and make changes, is to be finished by next fall or perhaps as early as late summer, college spokesman Michael Brown said.
In the meantime, the college is offering about five classes in mobile buildings on the grounds, and more classes are to begin Oct. 23 in Metamora as well as at the college's other new campus centers in Montpelier in Williams County and at the Defiance Regional Medical Center.
A variety of students is expected to attend. In an American History class offered now in Metamora, for instance, class members range from high school students taking the course for both high school and college credit to a retired teacher. Northwest State allows anyone 60 and older to attend free and still get credit.
Northwest State leaders have high hopes for the Metamora campus because the population in a 15-mile radius is considerably larger than the population around its main campus south of Archbold.
Across the country, community colleges that are showing large enrollment increases seem to be those that offer classes in multiple locations, Mr. Brown said. And with significantly higher gasoline prices than several years ago, most students are unwilling to drive more than 15 miles to attend classes.
There are students from as far as Defiance County's Hicksville area and Putnam County's Continental area taking classes at the Metamora campus now. But in those cases, both students work in the Toledo area, which makes Metamora convenient.
The idea for offering basic classes in Metamora started with a casual conversation between village Mayor Gary Loar and college President Betty Young, according to Mr. Brown. And it's met with enthusiasm from the community, he said.
At an Evergreen football game, Mr. Brown and Cheryl Geer, an administrator for the Metamora campus, showed off architectural sketches of plans for renovating the building, and despite pouring rain, many at the game stopped to look.
"It was very heartwarming," Mr. Brown said.
Plans for the Metamora campus, however, haven't been completely smooth. Getting regulators' approval for the building, which was damaged by fire in 2004, have taken longer than expected.
And in the meantime, prices for building materials - such as copper piping - have increased. Fourteen months ago, Northwest State officials predicted renovations at Metamora would total $1.5 million. The latest estimate is almost 50 percent higher.
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