USDA loan funds Wilmington College expansion
By ANDREA L. CHAFFIN
The landscape at Wilmington College is changing.
A modern, multi-million dollar addition to Kettering Hall will be constructed at the campus, WC officials announced in April.
In order to finance the addition, the college has secured a loan for $19.7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.
Kettering Hall, which was built in 1960, houses the college’s agriculture and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. WC is one of just two institutions in the state which offer a degree in agriculture, with the other being The Ohio State University.
Tammye Treviño, administrator for housing and community facilities programs with the USDA, traveled from Washington D.C. for the announcement. She spoke about the importance of investing in rural America.
“If rural America is to continue to be the source of food for the rest of America, and for larger portions of the world, and if we are to continue to invest in our country’s energy source and energy needs, then there is a natural investment in those projects that enhance opportunities, especially opportunities that are afforded by state-of-the art facilities in education in rural America,” she said. “And, as education is a critical component of world prosperity, the USDA’s partnership with you today signifies our faith in you and in rural America.”
As part of the project, about $2.2 million is expected to be infused into the local economy via construction. The college also expects to increase enrollments and new faculty hires.
“This is especially good news for Clinton County — the synergy here among the members of the community is impressive,” Treviño continued, referencing the economy. “This is the genuine phoenix rising from the ashes kind of story. When you consider the focus of the 2009 episode of ‘60 minutes’ called ‘Economic Storm Batters Ohio Town,’ we think ‘60 Minutes’ needs to come back here now and do another story now.”
Kettering Hall, with its lack of air conditioning and asbestos-laden floor tiles, has not been improved since its construction, officials noted. As part of the project, the original part of the 34,000-square-foot building will be renovated, which includes the installation of LEED-certified efficiencies like a reflective roof.
The new, two-story, 15,000 square-foot addition will boast more classrooms and laboratories and will be built into one of the college’s grassy areas. It will be designed to blend in with the architectural design of the original part of Kettering Hall as well as the neighboring Boyd Auditorium for Performing Arts.
At completion, the building will be ADA-compliant and include a food production kitchen and meeting space designed to be shared with the Wilmington Community at large.
About one-third of the total USDA loan, $6.5 million, will be used to refinance the college’s capital debt. The USDA loan has an interest rate of 3.125 percent, said Randall Sarvis, WC director of public relations. Officials declined to comment on the current interest rate the college is paying for its capital debt.
“The USDA rate of 3.125 percent is significantly more favorable than our current rate,” stated Jim Reynolds, WC president.
The rest of the loan will be used to construct the $12 to $13 million facility.
Reynolds said the project has been in progress for “a long time.”
“I’m standing up here today with goosebumps,” he told the crowd. “The reason for that is I’m looking at a bunch of students and some of our alumni and I think about our traditions and some of the things we will do in the future because of what we can accomplish by starting this project and building this building.”
The college’s ag program is one of its most popular majors, with enrollment nearing a 55 percent increase in year-over-year throughout the past four years. With society growing and changing, now is the time to invest in agriculture education, said Dr. Monte Anderson, WC agriculture program director.
“The reality is we as a society are going to be feeding a lot more mouths in the next 20, 30 or 40 years and we have to have the technology in place to sustain our resources to feed the demands of our growing world,” he said. “We’re an integrated, not an applied, science. Without agriculture, it’s a different world.”
Groundbreaking on the addition is expected to begin before the end of the calendar year and officials hope to have the construction finished by spring of 2015, Sarvis said.
Referencing the college’s motto, “Not by a leap but by many steps,” Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley said this agreement is not the first private/public effort with the college.
“We have taken a lot of steps together and we’ve been smacked in the head a lot and,” Riley said with a laugh. “Tammye is right when she talks about ‘60 Minutes’ coming back. Bring them on — we’ve got a lot of great things going on here.”
(Andrea Chaffin is a staff writer at the Wilmington News Journal.)