The Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees March 17 opened bids for this summer’s second phase of a $3 million renovation of the Niles Campus, awarded service pins and conducted other business during its regularly scheduled meeting on the Dowagiac campus.
The first phase, unveiled with a grand reopening Aug. 10, 2013, ushered in a fresh look with a new Student Service Center, SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) science labs and created a faculty/student commons.
SCALE-UP classrooms facilitate student teamwork and instructor movement between groups. There is no separate lab class. “Lectures” are class-wide discussions, with students making observations while working on engaging problems.
Staff and faculty office spaces now radiate from the commons like spokes so academic support and student services are right where students need them.
The futuristic commons, with pods of big chairs beneath overhanging lights, flows into a learning center with banks of computers, tutoring and the science lab.
SMC was the enrollment growth leader among Michigan’s 28 community colleges last fall, helped by a 24.6-percent increase in Niles Campus credit hours.
“In Phase one, we took care of the most urgent things, with an updated place we can serve students, a place where they can relax and study, a place where they can access faculty and ultra-modern science classrooms,” said Dr. Stacy Horner, dean of the Niles Campus. “Those were top-priority. Now we’re further expanding that to all-over common areas, physical education space and we’re creating a community room for different Niles organizations to meet. In Phase II, we’re going to create a second student gathering place similar in feel to that of the Student Activity Center on the Dowagiac Campus.”
SMC’s Niles Campus, 33890 U.S. 12, east of downtown at M-60 in Cass County’s Milton Township, opened in 1991. The College began offering courses on the Dowagiac campus in 1966, followed in 1971 in Brandywine Community School District rented space, then the former Bell Educational Center in the 1980s.
A 1999 expansion doubled instructional space, followed two years later by the adjacent M-TEC facility named for former state Sen. Harry Gast, R-St. Joseph, for advanced technology programs.
Students can earn an associate in arts that can be transferred to a four-year program; a two-year business degree; and complete pre-nursing classes at the Niles Campus.
SMC also offers advanced technology programs at the Niles Campus, including welding, mechatronics and precision machining.
Dr. Horner said in addition to physical improvements, “We’re expanding the depth (of course offerings) for transfer students who want to complete the first two years of a four-year degree entirely on the Niles Campus.”
Bids for the renovation were referred to administration for review with a directive to award the contract to the low bidder meeting specifications. Work will begin immediately after graduation on May 3 to be completed in time for fall semester. Classes this summer will take place in the half of the building that was renovated last summer.