COLUMBIA – Columbia College needs to expand, but growing is a tricky process for the landlocked campus.
Bob Hutton, the executive director of administrative services, presented the update of the Columbia College master plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission on May 7. The plan includes a new parking garage on the west side, a new science building and possibly creating new student housing on the south side. The commission voted unanimously to recommend City Council approval of the master plan.
Columbia College, like other higher learning institutions, does not need specific zoning but must present a master plan for approval. That plan must be updated every five years.
“The master plan is conceptual at best,” Hutton said. While the master plan paints a picture of how it would like the campus to look, none of the details are set in stone.
Both Hutton and the planning and zoning commissioners agreed that Columbia College must address the limited number of parking spots on campus. Hutton said that the school has enough parking spots for day-to-day activity, but it is a large issue during events.
A new parking garage off Range Line Street, on the east side of The Arena at Southwell Complex,could ease the problem. The master plan describes the structure as up to four tiers and providing roughly 500 new parking spaces.
An additional parking lot at the corner of Wilkes Boulevard and North Eighth Street would provide new spaces as well.
While parking dominated much of the conversation, Hutton pressed that a new science building north of Stafford Library is “the kingpin in the master plan.”
“It’s the highest priority as we speak,” Hutton said. Currently, the science building is a modular structure at that spot.
Another issue the master plan attempts to address is creating additional student housing. The plan calls for a new block of housing at the southeast corner of Rogers Street and North Tenth Street but the college does not currently own all of the properties there.
“In order for us to implement this master plan,” Hutton said, “there are several critical pieces of property that must be acquired.” Columbia College has not yet approached those property owners to purchase the properties.
In accordance with an agreement with the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, Columbia College has not included any growth to the west. A few of the planning and zoning commissioners, however, said that the most appropriate direction for the college to grow is west, especially now that the college has reached the industrially zoned area to the east that could better serve other businesses.
“I think that housing would be better on the west side of campus,” commissioner Doug Wheeler said.
Regardless, Hutton said that the plan could solve many of the campus’s issues.
“I think we’ll be able to follow this five years from now better than the one we made five years ago.” Hutton said.