Saturday, February 18, 2006

New River Community College eyes NRV Mall

Commonwealth of Virginia approved a proposal that would bring NRCC classes to mall's movie theater.

Angela Manese-Lee
The Roanoke Times

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. -- By the fall of 2007, New River Community College students may be able to take an English class where they can currently watch "Curious George" or "Final Destination 3."

New River Community College President Jack Lewis said he is working on plans to locate a satellite facility in the 30,750 square feet that now hold Regal Cinemas at the New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg.

Regal Cinemas is expected to occupy a new 14-screen, stadium-seating movie theater on mall property by November or December.

The New River Community College proposal was approved by the State Board for Community Colleges in July, and Lewis said he expects to put a Request For Proposal out in another month and have a lease worked out by the end of April.

An April lease agreement would give mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust time to renovate the theater to make it suitable for occupation by the summer of 2007, Lewis said.

Representatives from the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust could not be reached for comment Friday.

Once the facility is up and running, Lewis said the college's Appalachian Hall site in Christiansburg will likely close.

"That facility was given to the [NRCC] foundation by Appalachian Power and it has really been utilized," Lewis said.

But, he said, the college has "outgrown that and we need to get more centrally located in Montgomery County."

Location, amenities prime
Presently, 34 percent of enrolled students are Montgomery County residents.

Site coordinator Candy Mady said there are 25 classes being held this semester in Appalachian Hall and 600 students enrolled there.

The mall's proximity to Blacksburg and Christiansburg would not only help the school lure more students, but also adjunct faculty, who might otherwise be turned off by the distance and cost of travel to Pulaski County, Lewis said.

New River student Aislinn Lowry lives in Blacksburg and tries to take as many of her classes as she can at Appalachian Hall.

"I'll only go [to Dublin] if I'm really interested in the class," Lowry said. "It's really far and it's a hassle because the classes I want to take are either really early or late at night."

While subjects such as photography and Web design have made the 35- to 40-minute commute worthwhile, Lowry said she'd prefer if more courses were offered closer to home.

Jennifer Schaffer, a Virginia Tech senior who tutors at New River Community College, drives to the main campus two days a week and tutors in Christiansburg on Fridays.

"As a tutor, you go where you can help the students," Schaffer said. "But it cuts down on my hours I can work because I have to plan an hour of driving."

Lewis has been working to develop a satellite location in the area for several years.

At one point, he hoped to locate in the old Blacksburg Middle School. Room at Montgomery Regional Hospital was also considered.

"The main reason these places are of interest is they can offer a lot of the amenities of the main campus: food services, a parking lot, parking lot lighting, security, snow removal," Lewis said. "And it's also traffic and transportation."

The New River Valley Mall is located at the intersection of 460 and 114 and bus service there is provided by Blacksburg Transit.

In addition to the college benefiting from the mall, Lewis said mall tenants will likely see the advantages of having a school nearby.

"It just brings more people to the mall," he said. "The students are going to shop, they're going to eat -- everyone's a winner here, I think."

Idea working in Maryland
Mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust already owns a mall in Maryland that houses a satellite location for a local community college.

Hagerstown Community College spokeswoman Beth Stull said the school first moved into Valley Mall, a 903,000-square-foot facility in Hagerstown, in 1995.

Since then, the community college has twice expanded the space it leases. It now offers credit and noncredit continuing education courses in 3,200 square feet of classroom and computer lab space.

"In recent semesters we started adding more credit classes there," Stull said. "We find people do like the location because it is located off Interstate 81 and Interstate 70, so it's a really good location for people coming from the north, south, east and west."

"Plus," Stull added, "There's the fact that it's located at the mall so people can come there and do a multitude of things."

A remodel of the Regal Cinemas theater in Christiansburg would give the New River Community College room for 15 classrooms and two auditoriums. Lewis estimated up to 500 students could be taught there in a given hour.

"We'll be offering most of the coursework that falls into the general education area," he said.

"General education for students trying to transfer to Virginia Tech -- I could see that program being offered there: English, history, social sciences, that kind of thing."

Lewis said he was hoping to sign up for a 10-year lease with an option to renew with the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.

"You don't want to invest in such a huge activity like this and put in the furnishings and telecommunications for a two-to three-year lease," he explained.

"Over a two-year period, we could put in easily $750,000 in furnishing and technology, and that has nothing to do with the corporation or the lease."

Lewis declined to discuss possible costs per square foot for location rental.


  1. I hope theres a bookstore, so I score some cool NRCC logo wear!!


  2. There probably will be some sort of retail component.