Businesses Offer Feedback On River Valley Community College’s Lebanon Site

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Lebanon — Members of the business community met Wednesday morning with officials from the River Valley Community College to discuss what it hoped to see as the Claremont-based school opens a branch in a former Lebanon College building next year.

The forum was one opportunity for the community to let River Valley know what it can do for Lebanon, said Mike O’Connell, a former professor at the college and the director of the Lebanon branch.

“This opportunity here will be fantastic,” O’Connell said. “And we want to get ideas from you, and this forum is the start of that.”

About 20 small business owners and managers met at the Salt hill Pub to ask questions about the Lebanon branch and share ideas for how the college could most benefit the town and its commerce.

Doug Wise of Wise Associates marketing consultants in Grantham asked about coordinating internships with local businesses. River Valley has many partnerships with Claremont-area employers to match students with open internship opportunities.

O’Connell said that was something River Valley hoped to establish in Lebanon as well.

Jacqueline Guillette, the owner of Capstone Consulting and superintendent of the Grantham School District, said meetings like Wednesday’s were key to River Valley’s success in Lebanon.

“I think it’s really important that the college has a visible presence now and communicates with us,” said Guillette, a former superintendent of Claremont schools. “I think they’re working hard to hear what people say they need.”

River Valley intends to use the ideas gathered at the forum to feed into the strategic plan for the future of the school, said River Valley President Alicia Harvey-Smith.

State Rep. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield, commended Harvey-Smith and River Valley for expanding their commitment to higher education to Lebanon.

“Forty percent of world leaders have a liberal arts education,” said Oxenham, a former Soviet affairs specialist at the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council who later taught at Lebanon College. “And I think the work of RVCC in encouraging analytical thinking, critical thinking, in the curriculum is fantastic.”

Associate degree-track students at River Valley are required to take eight liberal arts courses regardless of their program of study, O’Connell said.

The Lebanon campus will be the business and industry hub for River Valley, Harvey-Smith said.

The majority of students enrolled in a business management curriculum live closer to Lebanon than to River Valley’s Route 120 campus in Claremont, the current location for business programs, O’Connell said. River Valley also has a branch in Keene, N.H. For students who are challenged by the location change, the school will broadcast live classes to the other campuses, he said.

In addition to business programs, the Lebanon branch will also house the school’s massage therapy certificate program, fine arts courses and a variety of liberal arts classes, O’Connell said.

It will be a full academic center, providing services like tutoring, access to advisors and programs like Running Start, which allows high school students to receive college credit for select courses.

O’Connell predicts the Lebanon branch of River Valley will have more than 500 students attending classes within the first few years.

The branch will also make available specialized trainings when requested by area businesses like leadership, critical thinking and public speaking, said Scott Lazzaro, director of a technical skills grant program at River Valley.

The school intends to move quickly toward that goal by holding classes on a limited basis starting in January, O’Connell said. The grand opening will be in fall 2016.

While officials at River Valley are enthusiastic to move into the Lebanon community, they are taking particular care to respect the heritage of Lebanon College, Harvey-Smith said.

The private, nonprofit school closed in August 2014 after suffering years of declining enrollment and other financial difficulties.

“We don’t want to lose the history. We know it’s important to Lebanon,” Harvey-Smith said.

The Community College System of New Hampshire purchased the main Lebanon College building on the pedestrian mall in August for $1.6 million.

Two executives in the real estate industry bought the 10,000-square-foot former Shoetorium building for $425,000 from Century Bank, which had taken over both Lebanon College buildings at an auction in May. Ledyard Charter School has moved into that building.

A space will be put aside to display photos and other memorabilia collected from the former Lebanon College buildings to commemorate its place in the school, Harvey-Smith said.

“I am committed to honor, and build on, the legacy of Lebanon College,” Harvey-Smith said.

River Valley officials hosted members of the public in a forum Monday night at AVA Gallery in Lebanon. There, attendees emphasized their preference for a fine arts curriculum to be available at the new branch, O’Connell said.

“We definitely learned that this is a community interested in the arts,” he said.

O’Connell also heard from many in the area who want to teach at the new branch, including former Lebanon College professors.

River Valley is eager to expand its resources and impact on the communities it serves, O’Connell said. The move to Lebanon will be a great opportunity for the school, its students and the town, he said.

“River Valley has a reputation we will not let slide,” he said.