KITTANNING – Call it a late Christmas gift, or a great start to the new year — either way, Armstrong County officials were celebrating news last week that Butler County Community College (BC3) will build a new branch campus in Ford City.
“It’s a pretty exciting moment,” Armstrong County Commissioner Don Myers said as the announcement was made at the commissioners’ Jan. 7 public meeting. “2021 looks like it’s starting off good.”
With state Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) and state Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Ford City) on hand, Myers and fellow commissioners Jason Renshaw and Pat Fabian were joined by representatives from BC3, including college president Nicholas Neupauer.
“This is an exciting day for BC3 and Armstrong County,” Neupauer said, noting the school’s three-decade affiliation with smaller locations in Armstrong County, including the present site in Manor Township.
Neupauer said that the new 12,500-square-foot facility that will be constructed on the site of the former Ford City High School will create a true “town and gown” relationship since the site for the new campus is right in the heart of the downtown community. He said that students and staff would likely support local businesses in the area, and some students would even seek out housing in the community.
“We look forward to being here for many years,” he said.
At their meeting last Thursday, the commissioners approved an agreement between the county and college, committing $250,000 from county reserves toward the $4.5 million project.
The college has also been awarded a $1.75 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, which was spearheaded by Pyle, as well as $220,000 in private funding commitments. Of the private funding, $100,000 has been committed by the Snyder Associate Companies of Kittanning, $70,000 from BelleFlex Technologies and PulFlex Technologies of Ford City, and $50,000 from NexTier Bank.
The new facility, officials said, will allow BC3 to increase enrollment in Armstrong County by as much as 426 percent.
“It’s a boost for our economy,” Myers said, pointing out that local residents now won’t have to travel for schooling.
“We’re taking a vacant lot and putting it on the tax rolls,” Pittman noted. “This is as win-win-win as it gets.”
Neupauer said that BC3 hopes to start work soon at the site, with the new facility ready to open in summer or fall 2022.
The commissioners thanked Pyle and Pittman for their work on securing funds for the project, particularly Pyle who has been working with the college for the past four years to make the new campus a reality.
“To bring that money back from Harrisburg was huge in this project,” Fabian said of Pyle’s efforts.
The commissioners said that restaurants, banks, housing and other stores stand to profit from having more people regularly in the area.
“Any time you increase your foot traffic, or traffic into a community, there are going to be dollars spent,” Fabian said. “That’s a good thing for Ford City. That’s a good thing for Armstrong County.”
Pyle said that with the new Armstrong High School nearby, as well as Lenape Technical School, the new college campus will complete the triangle that he sees becoming an incubator for jobs.
Pittman said he expected the partnership of state, county and private entities would spur additional development in the Ford City area.
“And it’s going to give students in Armstrong County a new educational opportunity,” he said.
Officials noted that 80 percent of the college’s Class of 2020 graduated without debt, and that BC3’s salary-to-cost ratio was the highest among more than 40 regional public and private colleges and universities in 2018 and 2019.
Pyle said that BC3 is “super cost-effective in getting people developed for walking into jobs.”
The single-story BC3@Armstrong facility in Ford City will house approximately four classrooms, a multipurpose room, a natural science laboratory, student meeting space and staff and facility offices. The building will be officially owned by the Nonprofit Development Corp. of Butler.
The new campus follows BC3’s establishment of additional locations in Cranberry Township (Butler County) in 1987, New Castle (Lawrence County) in 1989, Hermitage (Mercer County) in 1995 and Brockway (Jefferson County) in 2013.
Enrollment at the current Armstrong site has increased from 23 to as many as 121 students since 2015.