St. Charles Community College [SCC] officials say acquiring the former Barat Academy in Dardenne Prairie will provide the kind of space needed to expand its nursing and health programs and provide more workforce and industry course offerings for students.
College officials discussed specific plans for the property after the SCC Board of Trustees agreed Dec. 5 to pay $9.45 million to Lindenwood University to buy the 69,000-square-foot building and 28-acre site, located at One Academy Drive, just north of Interstate 64. The purchase was finalized on Feb. 24.
Those campus plans include not only nursing but expanded health offerings, including occupational therapy assistant, surgical technology, information technology, welding, agricultural and food science, transportation logistics, applied engineering, integrated technology programs and others.
“On our main campus, we just don’t have the right kind of space to do a lot of those technical programs,” said John Bookstaver, SCC’s interim vice president for academic and student affairs. “And that is what buying that property at One Academy Place is going to do for us.”
Bookstaver cited welding as an example. There’s a big need for welders in the workforce but the main campus does not have space that would be suitable to renovate cheaply, he said. SCC does provide welding courses but they have been held at other locations in Lincoln and St. Charles counties.
Centralized instruction could be held at a renovated former Barat Academy gymnasium that could provide 14 instructional bays. “We have a long waiting list to get into the welding program,” Bookstaver said.
The purchase is the latest chapter in the property’s evolving story. The academy opened as a private, independent Catholic high school in 2007 but moved to Chesterfield in 2011 after being evicted. Lindenwood bought the building and campus for $8.1 million in 2012 and the university and SCC announced a partnership that placed both schools’ nursing programs under the same roof.
In 2015, Lindenwood moved its nursing program back to its St. Charles campus. SCC continued to hold classes at the center because its annual $175,000 lease does not expire until August 2017.
Bookstaver said SCC may eventually expand the number of students in its nursing program, which has been in place since 2013. Any expansion requires the approval of the Missouri Board of Nursing.
He added that SCC is trying to “create pathways” for students to higher-paying jobs by training nursing students for entry-level or nursing home jobs. The companies that hire them often pay for students to take additional courses to become a LPN, saving the student’s money for further education.
“Particularly for people at the lower end of the economic spectrum, it’s hard to think about how you can get to higher-paying jobs because you’re trying to think about hitting a home run,” he said. “This gives people a lot of pathways to get to that home run. But do it incrementally.”
U.S. Labor Department research on job needs backs the college’s business plan. “The need for these jobs supports what we’re trying to do here,” Bookstaver said.
SCC officials hope to expand the four, state-of-the-art simulation labs or bays for nurse training in birthing, pediatrics, medical and surgical care to 10 bays. Also planned is an agricultural program that may include a greenhouse on the site’s former football field to grow the program.
Besides the extra room, Bookstaver said building other buildings is too expensive. “Absolutely, we could never have built a facility for what we’re paying for this,” he said. “This is such a fine facility, well-built and relatively new.”
About 250 students are enrolled in SCC’s nursing program. Bookstaver said enrollment for all programs on the satellite campus could effectively double. He also said SCC officials have discussed moving other courses from the main campus but have yet to make any decisions. The college’s enrollment has been stable in recent years–with about 9,700 students enrolled during the 2015-16 school year.
College officials hope to have new course offerings available in September, depending on renovations. The building will be renamed and a public dedication is expected to be held with the kickoff of the fall semester.
Meanwhile, SCC officials said in December that they plan to work with Dardenne Prairie officials concerning the use of the property’s parking lots that provide parking for athletic events on adjacent city athletic fields along Dardenne Creek. The city and a private group supporting youth cricket teams reached an agreement last year where the group would pay for several cricket fields despite uncertainty about parking.
“We certainly do intend to be a good neighbor to the city,” Bookstaver said. “We don’t anticipate any changes.” But he said that may change if SCC expands or adds more facilities at the site.