With construction work underway, Boutte’s River Parishes Community College – United Way campus will officially open its doors in January 2021.
Initially slated for a fall 2020 opening, construction on the campus started at the end of July and is expected to take 120 days.
“We knew we would be off by a semester because of COVID. The pandemic occurred right as we were gathering bids, so as a courtesy to our contractors we extended the bid deadlines,” United Way of St. Charles Executive Director John Dias said. “The end result was that we got in very competitive bids, and Lamar was chosen to do the job.”
The campus is a result of a partnership with River Parishes Community College in Reserve, which agreed to manage the St. Charles Parish campus if the United Way found a building. The college will be a part of the Louisiana Technical College System and open to all students.
RPCC St. Charles Campus Director Penelope Shumaker, who was the campus director at the RPCC Reserve campus for many years, said the college system has long been aware of the need for a St. Charles Parish location.
“All attempts on our part weren’t successful until this partnership came together,” she said. “We have been partnering with many St. Charles Industries for many years and this will only enhance our ability to provide higher education and work force training in their back yard.”
The United Way purchased a 3.9-acre site at 13143 Highway 90 for the community college’s future location. The project will cost an estimated $3.3 million, including $1.4 million to renovate the 16,389 square-foot bingo hall and the addition of 439 square feet. The renovation will provide a facelift for the center section of the building.
Even with the physical campus not open, Dias said prospective students are able to take online classes this semester.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, United Way was able to provide new programs to the community – including grocery and pharmacy services and online tutoring – and the organization intends to stay sensitive to the community’s needs, Dias said.
“The bottom line is we feel like this is our chance to change generations through education,” he said. “We will never be able to measure the amount of people whose lives will change because of this, but we know it will make a difference.”
Dias said the campus’ goal is to serve a wide range of students – including people right out of high school wanting to learn a trade, students wishing to start at a smaller institution before transferring to a large university and people working in a minimum wage job looking for an advancement opportunity.
The school’s academic and program offerings will grow each year as school becomes established.
“This campus represents the United Way stepping up and showing the community a bold action, because the community has supported us in such a bold manner with their donations,” Dias said. “More education and more job training provide more options in terms of employment and more options are always good. I think higher education is a real anchor to communities.”
Dias said there is no downside to RPCC’s expansion into St. Charles Parish.
“It’s good for students, it’s good for their parents, it’s good for employers and it’s good economically for the businesses around it,” he said. “We just feel like that’s a big positive stone that you throw in a pond that has a lot of positive ripples.”
Shumaker said one of the missions for the campus is to make a difference in serving the unemployed and under-employed residents of St. Charles Parish.
“As campus director, that is a mission I will focus energy towards accomplishing,” she said. “This will help to reduce the poverty rate of the parish and enrich the lives of those residents. Students seeking higher education can obtain their associates degree at much lower costs before going on to pursue the next levels, and with our transfer degree programs our degrees transfer to all state universities.”