South Puget Sound Community College officials predicted that their new Lacey campus would become a popular choice for students in northeastern Thurston County.
They just didn’t expect it to grow so quickly.
Classroom space and sometimes parking have already become scarce at the nearly 8-acre campus, which officially opened in Lacey’s Woodland District in September 2015.
“We were prepared for the first year to basically not have enrollment that would support the operation of the building,” said Judy Hartmann, chairwoman of SPSCC’s Board of Trustees. “Well, we never had to worry about that.”
This quarter, the campus is serving the equivalent of 333 full-time students, with about 550 people enrolled in for-credit courses. The campus expects to serve about 2,000 students in its noncredit programs, and 800 people will use its testing services.
Even more people visit the campus throughout the week because of the college’s Event Center, which offers three large banquet rooms that can seat nearly 100 people in each space, or 310 when all three rooms are combined. The rentals are getting “heavy usage,” said college spokeswoman Kelly Green.
“We underestimated just how much need was in the community,” she said.
SPSCC’s Hawks Prairie Center was the college’s first move into Lacey, almost 20 years ago, but it offered fewer classes and served more like a satellite location in leased space in a shopping center. By contrast, the Lacey campus at 4220 Sixth Ave. SE offers everything students need to complete a degree, including registration and academic counseling services, financial aid and classrooms.
It’s centrally located for North Thurston Public Schools’ Running Start students, a convenient drive for service members stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and across the street from Intercity Transit’s Lacey center.
For students in Yelm, getting to classes in Lacey takes a ride on one bus, instead of the three buses it takes to get to SPSCC’s main campus on Mottman Road Southwest, Green said.
“It’s smaller than the Mottman campus, but it’s extremely convenient for anyone who is living in the Lacey side (of Thurston County),” said SPSCC sophomore Amber Hale. “… It seems very complete.”
MORE CLASSROOMS PLANNED
The surge in enrollment has left college officials scrambling to find ways to accommodate the influx of students.
Plans already are in the works to expand the campus, after the pending sale of the college’s 54.5-acre site at 3210 Marvin Road NE is finalized, Green said.
The college purchased the Hawks Prairie property in 2005 for $6.14 million, but never developed it. It has been listed for $6.06 million, Green said.
“We expect to close very near that figure,” she said.
Green said the buyer’s name hasn’t been announced, but described it as a “food distribution company.”
Part of the sale’s proceeds will go into the college’s reserves, and about half of it will be used for a $3 million renovation of Lacey’s Building 3, which was gutted and remodeled enough to meet code in February 2015, Green said.
Right now, the first floor of Building 3 houses the Advanced Manufacturing program.
“We had a grant to get some equipment, and we literally didn’t have room on the Mottman campus,” Green said. “We didn’t have room at New Market (Skills Center) where we had been doing some classes. … We did just enough remodeling to get that equipment in, to get it safe and comfortable for the students, but nothing else.”
After the Hawks Prairie sale closes, Building 3 will get new siding, windows, doors, exterior and an updated HVAC system, said Laura Price, SPSCC director of facilities. The money also will pay for a major remodel of the nearly 20,000-square-foot building’s second floor, which will add six classrooms, as well as offices and conference space.
If the project stays on target, the renovation could be finished by spring of 2018, Price said. After that, the college will relocate its Computer Aided Drafting/Building Information Modeling program to Lacey.
Right now, the CAD/BIM program operates out of Building 33 at the Mottman campus.
Having those programs in the same space will allow students and instructors to collaborate on projects, Green said.
“It’s bringing this full notion of development and manufacturing together on the campus,” Hartmann said.
The remodeling will help alleviate crowding in Building 1 because the classrooms can be opened up for other programs, when needed, Green said. The relocation of CAD/BIM also will generate more space at Mottman, Green said.
Building 33 at the Mottman campus could eventually become a new student fitness center, for example. Students are studying the costs of how a new fitness center could be supported with fees or other funding.
“It’s the students who have been asking for it,” Green said.
But the remodeling project is contingent on the sale of the Hawks Prairie property, which was supposed to close Feb. 28, but did not. Wetland mitigation issues and traffic studies have prolonged the sale process, Green said.
“We’re trying to be well-positioned to hit ‘go’ once funds are available,” she said.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO?
The space that SPSCC leased in the Hawks Prairie shopping center has a new tenant: Charlie’s Safari — The Family Fun Center.
The business closed its location near Regal Cinemas in Lacey on May 1, when the lease was changed to a month-to-month contract, said Charlie’s Safari owner Kurt Kageler.
The 16,000-square-foot Hawks Prairie space is being remodeled, but might be ready to open in April, he said.
“We’re very excited, can’t wait,” Kageler said. “We were hoping to be opened a lot sooner, but as things go, it will be about four months later than we thought it would be.”
Kageler said the new location is smaller than the old space, but it has a better layout.
As part of the remodel, walls have been removed, the ceiling has been opened up, and a front entrance has been added.
“It works really well for us,” he said. “We’re just really thankful. There’s a lot of people that are excited about getting us reopened. We’re hoping to earn everybody’s business back.”
1962: Opens as Olympia Vocational Technical Institute.
1976: Renamed Olympia Technical Community College.
1980: School’s mission expands to become a comprehensive community college.
1984: Renamed South Puget Sound Community College.
1995: SPSCC Hawks Prairie Center is opened.
2005: SPSCC purchases 54.5-acre parcel off Marvin Road Northeast for a future campus.
2012: SPSCC purchases an existing five-building office park in Lacey’s Woodland District.
2015: SPSCC shutters its Hawks Prairie Center and opens its Lacey campus.
2017: Sale of the Marvin Road property nears, and college officials prepare for renovation at Lacey campus.
Sources: SPSCC, Olympian archives