WILMINGTON — Clinton County has purchased the Southern State Community College (SSCC) facility here for $1.25 million for expanded office space for county departments.
For SSCC, which had announced in May 2020 it would not reopen its north campus in Wilmington when face-to-face classes resumed, this is part of its pivot toward more online course offerings and post-secondary education opportunities.
According to Clinton County commissioners, the Davids Drive building will house offices for several county departments. These include all county departments currently located at the courthouse that are not directly related to the judicial (court system) branch of government.
That means that offices of the county auditor, treasurer, recorder, commissioners, and tax map/GIS will relocate from the courthouse to the newly acquired facility.
“The commissioners have understood for several years that the citizens of the county needed convenient access to offices and that the courthouse space was becoming no longer conducive to non-court offices,” Clinton County Commissioners President Mike McCarty said.
In addition, county government offices currently housed at the County Administration (Admin) Building on East Sugartree Street across from Champion Bridge Company will also be moving to the former SSCC facility. Those include the Clinton County Title Office, Clinton County Solid Waste District/Recycling & Litter Prevention, the county coroner, and county administrator.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), which is located at the County Admin Building, is anticipated to move to the new site also, although that hinges on the approval of the state because it is a state agency, said Commissioner Brenda K. Woods.
If that state approval occurs, then the county-owned Admin Building will be empty.
McCarty said commissioners have not made a decision what to do with the Admin Building.
“First things first. Get keys to this [SSCC] place; get it renovated; work with the other elected officials to make it something we’re proud of for the next 50 years,” said McCarty.
To clarify, county government offices in the Annex Building on South Nelson Avenue will stay there, and the county prosecuting staff will remain in the former post office building on East Main Street downtown.
The planned moves depend partly on the construction — which is to say, the renovation — market and costs, said McCarty. Commissioners hope and plan to have everything transitioned by July or August of 2022, he said.
“This is going to be a building we’re going to use for years to come, and we want to do it [retrofit/renovation] right,” said McCarty.
Even with all the planned moves, roughly 20 percent of the Davids Drive facility will not be needed immediately.
That’s actually a plus, he said, to have that extra capacity, “so if the county grows or evolves, leaders can make some cost-effective changes and accommodate that [growth or evolution].”
Money from the county’s General Fund will be used in the purchase.
“This board and boards prior to us have been very conservative with money and budgeted wisely. This is a thing we can do, and we’re very fortunate,” said the commissioners president.
The facility is approximately 36,000 square feet; it opened in spring 2000. The property also includes more than 25 acres of land.
The land is viewed as one of the attractive parts of the acquisition.
“It gives the county’s future leadership room to do things that are needed as the county grows,” McCarty said.
The specific uses of the future open spaces inside the courthouse will be determined later, but one obvious thing is designated privacy space for attorney-client conferences. That reportedly has sometimes occurred in the courthouse hallways for want of another spot.
Woods wanted to publicly thank SSCC for letting the Clinton County Community Action Program tour the SSCC facility and obtain items for free such as furniture, shelving, and cubbies for children to keep their belongings, for Community Action’s new Clinton County Early Learning Center.
McCarty said the sale is beneficial for both the county and the college.
“The acquisition of the Southern State campus by the county will be a great opportunity to improve taxpayer accessibility to county offices, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure the capacity for growth for decades to come,” said McCarty. “We appreciate Southern State’s commitment to ensuring the campus remains a productive part of our community and look forward to their continued presence and benefit to Clinton County.”
SSCC President Dr. Kevin Boys said college leaders had hoped that the facility — built with state dollars, with the land donated by the local Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) — would be acquired and utilized for a continued public purpose.
SSCC set out in 2018 to identify partners to utilize its buildings more fully, according to Boys. When the Wilmington campus closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the college began working in earnest to identify a local partner to buy the facility and use it for the community.
“The nature of the college is shifting,” said Boys. “Brick and mortar stores are going the same way — more robust online offerings are the future.”
Boys said while there will always be a need for face-to-face instruction and hands-on learning experiences, the college is reducing its physical footprint to pivot toward a new vision for accessibility.
“Thirty years ago, the college’s vision of accessibility meant geography,” said Boys. “Now, that includes when and how a student takes their course, not just where.”
But the college isn’t going anywhere, Boys said. In-person course offerings are still available at Wilmington College, Laurel Oaks, and in the county’s high schools. SSCC is continuing to find innovative ways to serve its students in the area.
The land on which the campus sits was donated to SSCC in 1996 by the local Community Improvement Corporation, according to CIC Executive Director David Raizk. The CIC also contributed more than $200,000 for utilities and annexation at the time, he added.
“We’re sorry to see Southern State go … but we understand that education changes and there is less need for brick and mortar locations,” Raizk said. “We understand that this will assist SSCC, and it’s also good for the county. This gives the county a chance to consolidate and free up space in the courthouse.”
Boys thanked Raizk and the CIC for their generosity and assistance in the sale process. “I so appreciate the vision and generosity surrounding the original donation of land by the CIC,” said Boys.
“This became especially critical during the years surrounding the Great Recession. I’m equally appreciative of the CIC once again stepping forward to help the college and county realize a new vision for this terrific facility.”
The CIC has generously agreed to remove an original clause in the deed restricting the land for educational purposes, so that the county government can now utilize the site, said Woods.
SSCC Board of Trustees Clinton County Chairman Brian Prickett thanked Boys, the CIC, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Board of Commissioners, Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew T. McCoy, and the College Trustees for their cooperation in the sale.
Prickett also thanked Wilmington College and Laurel Oaks for partnering with SSCC to provide classroom space in Clinton County.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.