SANFORD - Ten years ago, Harnett County and Central Carolina Community College had a vision: a college center in the western part of the county to serve the educational needs of residents and businesses there.
On Nov. 23, the fulfillment of that vision was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house at the college's new West Harnett Center. The center, located in the Western Harnett Industrial Park, off Highway 87, south of Sanford, is the college's first permanent facility in western Harnett.
The 8,500-square-foot building houses the college's barbering program, a welding shop, a 24-station computer lab, classrooms, and an industrial training lab for workforce development. A sustainable agriculture program is in the planning stages.
The ribbon-cutting/open house brought together county commissioners, college trustees and administrators, representatives from the Harnett Forward Together Committee, Harnett Economic Development Commission, and the public to celebrate the new Center. They see it as a catalyst for economic growth, for workforce training, and for the education of residents in the area.
"What this means is that the college has new capacity to serve students in Harnett County; new capacity to meet the challenges of BRAC (the U.S. Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure initiative); and capacity to help improve the quality of life for our citizens," said Bill Tyson, the college's Harnett County provost.
Harnett is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and much of that growth is in the rural western section. In addition, BRAC is relocating the U.S. Army Forces Command and Reserve Command from Fort McPherson, Ga., to Fort Bragg. BRAC is expected to bring about 20,000 people to the Harnett area, many of whom will be looking for both general education opportunities and workforce training. Businesses serving the commands will need training for their workforces.
"This center is going to train our people for the 21st century and we're going to fill this industrial park with opportunities for our people," said Tim McNeill, county commissioner, CCCC trustee, and chairman of the BRAC Regional Task Force. "It's the thing of having vision for what we're doing; vision for our citizens. I thank everyone for working together."
Creation of the Center was given major impetus in 2003, when the Harnett Forward Together Committee donated to the college 15 acres in the then-new Western Harnett Industrial Park. Construction of the Center was funded by $1 million from the 2000 state bond referendum, a $647,620 grant from the North Carolina Community College System, and $325,200 in county funding. The groundbreaking took place in September 2007 and the Center opened for use in September 2008.
Dr. Bud Marchant, president of the college since August, told the open house gathering that, before he applied for the position, he and his wife drove up from South Carolina to look at the college and its various campuses and centers. Heading north on Highway 87 toward Sanford, they saw a "Western Harnett Industrial Park" sign and a "West Harnett Center" sign. The center was then under construction.
"I was floored that this facility was located in an industrial park," Marchant told the gathering. "I said, what genius thought of that? Serving workforce needs is what community colleges do."
Following the program, Jim Randolph, WHIP board chairman, said, 'This Center and Park mean that we can keep our local people at home for work; our children can work in the community. There will be opportunities for them at the Center and in the Industrial Park."
Another vision for western Harnett will be brought to reality in the Industrial Park. McNeill announced at the open house that, in about a year, there would be a celebration for the opening of a planned 11,000-square-foot public library in the Park. Now, the nearest full-service libraries are in Lillington and Sanford.