- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

FERRUM, Va. (AP) — Ferrum College is seeking to attract more students to its rural campus by offering improvements, including a shopping center.

“We want to control how this develops. We don’t want a strip mall,” says Ferrum spokesman Dean Browell.

The goal of the initiative is to attract business and offer a more enticing environment to prospective students. Enrollment, which stands at 950, has plateaued in the past decade.

Ferrum College plans to move its farm museum across state Route 40 to make room for a shopping center that college officials hope will include a grocery story and doctor’s office.

The college also is overseeing a two-year “Ferrum Plus” renovation program:

• Franklin Hall, the student center, is surrounded by scaffolding as it gets a new facade and is being expanded.

• Beckham Hall, one of the three original buildings on campus, has been renovated inside and out.

• Roberts Hall, another original building, is next in line.

In a field next to Ferrum’s sports complex is the site of the college’s newest dorm. The 50-student suite-style dorm, complete with kitchenettes, will open Jan. 20.

Another dorm is scheduled for construction in the next few years.

Ferrum is emulating a model that has worked elsewhere.

At Emory & Henry College near Abingdon, for instance, enrollment of first-year students increased by one-third over last year, in part because of an ambitious plan by the college to acquire nearby land.

“We also have been in expansionist mode,” says Emory President Tom Morris. “We’ve been purchasing a number of houses and properties in Emory.”

Ferrum College and Emory & Henry are in sections of their counties that have remained in the economic shadow of other, faster-growing districts. For Emory & Henry, it’s the Abingdon and Bristol area. For Ferrum, it’s Smith Mountain Lake.

“We have to be the change agent in our communities,” says Lee King, Ferrum College’s vice president for institutional advancement. “It’s the nature of the rural environment.”

Although there is a pocket of businesses and development in Ferrum, Mr. King and Mr. Browell note that it’s off of Virginia 40.

Ferrum has lost a doctor and a pharmacy within the past five years, and the closest grocery store — the Winn-Dixie, on the west end of Rocky Mount — closed earlier this year.

Blue Ridge Supervisor Hubert Quinn, who lives just down the road from Ferrum College, says he supports the plan.

“We need something up there, and I think the college does, too, to keep kids on campus,” Mr. Quinn says.

The college won’t build the shopping center, but will have tenants construct their buildings, Mr. Browell says.

As the leaseholder, though, it will require tenants to build according to the college’s guidelines, he says.

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