COA opens doors to students: ‘It’s a game changer for our community’

Published 3:22 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2022

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Many years of dreams and plans came to fruition last week as College of The Albemarle – Dare opened for the fall semester under one campus.

Incoming students breathed life into the new building, a 38,000 square foot technology-enriched facility designed by Boomerang Design and constructed by Barnhill Contracting Company.

COA broke ground in December 2020 and finished the $18 million dollar project about 16 months later.

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With the completion of the building, the Dare Campus of COA is now all in one location. Previously, about half the classes were held in the Russell Twiford Campus behind the CVS in Manteo, and the other half were held at the current Dare location in the Professional Arts Building.

To kick off the first day, COA alum Jeanine Shelley, who received a certificate for Firefighter 1, Firefighter 2 and Hazmat last May, played the bagpipes for students as they arrived on campus for their first classes.

Students were greeted at the entrance by COA – Dare dean Timothy Sweeney. Offering a warm smile and a welcoming handshake, Sweeney answered questions for new students and directed them through the doors and into the modern and attractive foyer.

The two-story building features high vaulted ceilings, spacious classrooms equipped with high-definition camera equipment and technology, and plenty of hang-out space for students.

“It’s huge,” said pre-cal student Kadu Close of the new building. “They put a lot of nice stuff in here.”

The campus is thoughtfully designed to appeal equally to the in-person student and the online student. There are quiet spaces for studying and visiting with friends, and two outdoor areas where students can relax, read or socialize while sitting on the bright orange and turquoise chairs.

Pops of color show up in unexpected places, like the bright blue accent wall in the information booth, or on the green and turquoise stripes on the floor of the computer lab, complementing the neutral grays throughout.

Surprisingly comfortable and stylish green rolling chairs dot every desk in classrooms. Several rooms are equipped with convertible desks with computer monitors that fold down with the press of a button, transforming the room from a computer lab to an English classroom in moments.

All rooms have state-of-the art camera and audio equipment—installed on the ceiling with no visible cords—so that it virtually disappears, making the spaces feel calm and refreshing.

“It’s beautiful,” said first year student Wyatt Ward.

For Ayla Anlauf – and many other Dare County Schools graduates – her education is made possible because of the Dare Guarantee, a scholarship for recent Dare County graduates that covers tuition, books, and a laptop. Anlauf got an Associates in Arts from COA through an online program, and she applied and was accepted to UNC Charlotte, only to discover that she couldn’t find housing. So, she’s returned to COA in person to pursue an Associates in English. “Luckily I’ve been able to use the Dare Guarantee and it’s fantastic,” she said.

Dare County has pledged $250,000 to tuition and fees for the program, but for COA President Dr. Jack Bagwell, that’s just the beginning.

“We want to see this building full and overflowing all hours of the day,” Bagwell said on the first day of classes, where he greeted students and staff in the COA – Dare lobby. “We want to [so utilize the program that we have to] go back to Dare County and ask for more money,” he added.

Currently, there are 576 students enrolled in credit courses at the campus.

According to Bagwell, college enrollment numbers are still down across North Carolina and across the nation since before the COVID-19 pandemic. “Covid, the economy, finances, gas in the car—that’s why Dare Guarantee is so important. We want to get the word out. We want to make sure everybody knows about it,” he said.

To apply for the Dare Guarantee, students must fill out a FAFSA form and then apply for the Dare Guarantee scholarship. There is a room—the Student Success Room—dedicated to help prospective students with the application process. “I can it a one stop shop. Students can come here and get help with application and help with FAFSA,” Dean Sweeney said.

The room also includes offices of advisors and the Small Business Center, which is a resource for small businesses in the community as they grapple with questions on how to get started and run their business, or how to apply for COVID-19 relief funds that were made available by the government. The Student Success Room was sponsored by Twiddy & Company.

Other local businesses, organizations and individuals made donations and sponsored rooms, decks, benches or wings of the new building, including The Outer Banks Hospital, Kitty Hawk Kites, Southern Bank, Towne Bank, Jeff and Sharon Aldridge, Tess Judge, Montague Dixon III, Mark K. Dixon, Michael S. Dixon and Mary Elizabeth Levy, Jane Webster, Carol Cowell, Dr. and Mrs. Bagwell and several anonymous donors.

The Outer Banks Hospital sponsored the upstairs medical wing, which features several large nursing rooms with training manikins and an observation room. The training capabilities are so advanced, Sweeney called it “a game changer for our community.”

The science classroom features a prep room in the back with a large counter and storage areas. The prep room enables the classroom space to be used as for chemistry, biology and physics classes.

“The concept of this whole facility is flexibility,” said Dean Sweeney, who has worked to make the building wholly efficient to students and staff, and also to the community.

One of the rooms he says he’s dedicated to the community. It’s called the Veteran’s Memorial Hall so named by an anonymous donor who wished to honor the veterans.  It’s a large room that can hold between 75-80 people.

“We’re here for the community, and they’ve really stepped up to use this room,” Sweeney said, naming Northwest Regional Police Department, Manteo Rotary, Southern Bank, and Kitty Hawk Kites as groups who have already utilized the space.

“We really want the community to use the facility as much as possible,” he added.

Beyond the Veterans Memorial Hall, COA has already demonstrated its commitment to serve the community through events hosted on its grounds. Day one of Dare Days in June was held on the lawn, and Manteo’s weekly farmers market has been held at the campus due to the construction at the waterfront.

For the students, Sweeney has plans to offer intramural soccer, disc golf and volleyball. He seeks to offer not just classes, but real community to the students while they’re at COA.

“My goal is to keep them here so they can stay and work here in our community. There are so many jobs here on the Outer Banks, and we have a need for skilled workers,” he said.

The new campus will enhance the learning capabilities and opportunities for students as COA strives to serve our community and train the next generation of leaders.

“It’s beautiful … we are so blessed. For a college our size, we could not ask for more,” said Bagwell.