METAMORA, Ohio - By this time next year, Metamora could be a college town.
And when higher education formally returns to this Fulton County community, look for Eva Belle Green at the front of the class.
"I think it's wonderful," she said. "I'm just thrilled this is going to happen."
Others in the Metamora area share that excitement, but Eva Belle just may be the head cheerleader for the planned branch campus of Northwest State Community College. She's mighty fond of the building where the school is to begin offering classes Aug. 23, 2006.
Eva Belle, who is in her 80s, went to high school in that building. She was one of 15 classmates, Class of '37. And she taught in that building, for 25 years. Math, science, and reading.
"When Northwest State opens here, I want to be a student again," Mrs. Green said. If it's somehow possible, she wants to sit right there in the front row of the same room where she attended high school and taught fifth-grade.
Meanwhile, the college is making itself known here - with a shrink-wrapped truck, a billboard, and trinkets for youngsters at a local library program. The college's new Express truck, and the billboard the college rented here for a year, promote the message that Northwest State is the "economic engine of your future." The college is trying to participate in community events on a monthly basis.
On a recent evening, officials of Northwest State Community College and the Evergreen Local School District exchanged a dollar and a deed, giving the college ownership of the former Evergreen school and putting the Metamora project on a fast track.
Jeffrey Ferezan, dean of Student Success and Advocacy for the college, said that in the coming days, an architect will be hired, a complete walk-through of the building will be conducted, and a timeline will be structured. Bids will go out fairly quickly on windows, elevators, and items for lab classrooms, he said.
The estimated cost to turn the old school into a new college facility is $1.2 million.
The college's board has agreed to lend money from the general fund to start the project; the loan is to be paid back through fund-raising efforts, Mr. Ferezan said.
The Metamora community, with its 600-some residents, has wrapped its warm, welcoming arms around the project, he said. The feeling here, he said: "It's the right thing to do."
Although residents in the area embrace the project, not everyone is wild about it. There are a "few naysayers" out there, said Marshall Brown, college spokesman. Some people question why the college would invest more than a million dollars in an old school.
Northwest State wants to rekindle a passion for education with its Metamora project, Mr. Brown said, in part because education is critical to the region's future.
"Any resistance to the Metamora project is actually in defiance of our need to address what is called by many people an emergency," Mr. Brown said. That emergency, he said, is "a dramatically undereducated, underprepared work force." The proof in the pudding in Fulton County is that only 7 percent of the work force has a two-year college degree, he said.
About 80 percent of the adults in the county have no college training or college degree, he said, adding, "Plain and simply, there is an emergency situation. Fulton County will struggle to retain and recruit high-paying and high-tech jobs" unless the work force becomes better educated and prepared.
To reach more students, the college must expand its scope, he said. Northwest State's campus near Archbold is 39 miles from Metamora. "Most people in northwest Ohio think that is a long way to drive," he said. With soaring gas prices, more and more people are looking for community colleges in close proximity to their homes.
Plans call for the original portion of the building, which opened in 1909, to be renovated. It will house seven classrooms, a student lounge, a computer lab, and a reception area, spread out on three floors of the old school, said Mr. Ferezan, who called this a great challenge and a wonderful project.
The school in Metamora was vacated when Evergreen Middle School students moved into the district's former high school on Evergreen's campus on Road 6 near here.
Initially, general education courses could be available, but eventually the college could offer full programs for students to earn associate's degrees. The center also could serve as a prime location for work force development programs, officials have said.
Make a footnote here: Mrs. Green would like to take a science class when she enrolls here in this college town.
Contact Janet Romaker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6006.41.71244 -83.91295