Feeling Blue

Blue Ridge Community and Technical College’s new, $16.5 million complex represents a giant step forward, but the school isn’t done growing.

Formally unveiled Friday morning, Blue Ridge’s 55,000-square-foot academic and administrative building is just the first of several structures planned for the 46-acre campus on Apple Harvest Drive, not far from The Commons shopping center off Interstate 81.

Blue Ridge also is looking for space to hold more classes in Charles Town, according to Peter G. Checkovich, the longtime president of Blue Ridge.

Don Weigel, who oversees EMS programs at Blue Ridge, shows off a classroom where students get a feel for what it will be like to provide medical care in an ambulance.

“We’ve been tied up with this building project but it’s something we’re going to be focusing on in the months ahead,” Checkovich said.

Blue Ridge already holds work force development courses onsite at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, and Checkovich said other employers in Jefferson County are interested in the school’s offerings.

“We didn’t always understand the economic development piece of this,” said Checkovich, a 63-year-old Northern Virginia native who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and a doctorate from the University of Virginia and worked at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., before joining then-Shepherd College in 1987, first as registrar and then as the dean of Shepherd’s community college.

The community college had been part of Shepherd since 1974, but enrollment remained small until the school moved to Martinsburg in 2001. Initially, it leased space in the former Blue Ridge Outlets shopping center complex downtown and in 2006, the school won accreditation as a separate institution and adopted its current name.

With the new building, Blue Ridge has left its Stephen Street home, but will continue to offer culinary classes and other programs at its tech center south of Martinsburg though officials say that at some point, those offerings may also be housed in a new building on the Apple Harvest Drive campus.

“The idea of coming to Martinsburg wasn’t always popular,” Checkovich said. “We had those who said it would be an expensive undertaking where we’d be lucky to ever attract an enrollment of more than 1,000.”

But a community college in Martinsburg was just what Martinsburg needed, Checkovich said. Today, Blue Ridge offers more than 50 associate degrees and certificate programs as well as its work force development training.

“It took awhile for us to break away from that ivory tower mentality,” Checkovich said. “Institutions of higher education, unfortunately, have a tendency to think we know how to do things best. But that’s a horrible practice when you’re collaborating with businesses. We realized we have to listen to the needs of business and help them with the problems they need to solve.”

Besides its courses in Martinsburg and Charles Town, Blue Ridge’s winning formula also calls for expansion into Berkeley Springs. The school is leasing space in the onetime War Memorial Hospital, left empty earlier this year when Valley Health opened a new facility just outside of town.

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