It’s encouraging to see work moving ahead to reclaim and renovate the former Virginia Intermont College campus in Bristol, Virginia, for the new Virginia Business College, now planning a 2020 opening.
Beyond the fact that renovating and repurposing the historic property will prevent it from falling into further disrepair and becoming a blemish on the landscape, the planned new bachelor’s degree-level college will give our region yet another option for educating our young people or allowing some of us to go back to school to brighten our futures.
The campus has been largely abandoned since VI closed in May 2014 after losing its accreditation. The college had faced increasing debt and declining enrollment for several years.
Now, Virginia Business College plans to open for students by next fall, using some of the former VI buildings. It already has invested about $600,000 on renovations to prepare the campus for use as a college again.
The new school plans to offer bachelor’s degrees in business in seven concentrations, including accounting, business analytics, entrepreneurship, human resource management, information technology management, management/leadership and marketing.
Although the proposed college had already been approved by the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia in response to an application filed last fall, that approval had called for the school to be open by this fall.
But that application has been withdrawn and a new one filed that would give school officials another year to finish construction and hire faculty and staff, according to school President Gene Couch. He told the Bristol Herald Courier that he saw a “real problem” in trying to get the college ready to go by this fall.
Meanwhile, the work on the campus continues at a brisk pace. That includes erection of a fence around the campus and upgrading of the sprinkler systems in the parts of the campus that Virginia Business College intends to use initially, which comprises seven of the existing buildings.
“In the last three or four months, we’ve been putting roofs on, putting windows in, working on electrical systems, and we’re putting in water now — bringing it back to life,” Couch said. “It’s a beehive of activity. Parking lots are essentially done.”
Among the buildings planned for initial use are the former science building, which is being renamed Blue Ridge Hall and will be the main classroom building; the former gym, which becomes a health and fitness center; the library; the student center; the Holston Hall residence center; the former Harrison-Jones Auditorium, which is being renamed Bristol Hall; and the former president’s home, which will be the school’s administration building, according to the story.
Other buildings on the campus that will not be used initially, including Main Hall, will get some roof and structural upgrades to protect them for future use, Couch said.
The school is hoping for quick provisional approval by the state agency so it can begin filling staff and faculty positions and start recruiting students while campus renovations are being completed.
Couch said the college plans to concentrate on recruiting commuting students who live within a two-hour radius of the Moore Street campus but said there also might be an opportunity to attract international students, including some from China seeking an American business education.
He also said the new school wants to hold tuition and other costs down to those of public colleges and universities, even though this will be a private college. And he noted that federal financial aid would not be available for students initially — until the school receives accreditation.
We hope the new Virginia Business School is able to open as planned and that it will become a success.
And we applaud the decision of the school’s developers to bring the beautiful Virginia Intermont campus back to life as an institution of higher learning. It’s yet another step forward for our community.