Looking back: Community college to be established in region

Published 11:35 am Wednesday, January 16, 2019

by Clyde Parker

On Dec. 28, 1968, Eugene Sydnor, chairman of the Virginia Community Colleges Board (VCCB,) announced that a community college will be built in Isle of Wight County on a site known as the Richard Rawls Farm. The site, containing about 90 acres and located approximately two miles east of the City of Franklin on U. S. Route 58 near its intersection with U. S. Route 258, is just down the road from Franklin Municipal Airport.

The college would serve an area designated as Region 21 of the Virginia Community College System, which included the counties of Nansemond, Isle of Wight, Southampton, a portion of Sussex County, and the cities of Franklin and Suffolk.

The announcement ended three years of spirited bidding between proponents of several sites offered in the Franklin-Isle of Wight area and in the Suffolk-Nansemond area.

The college was expected to cost $1.8 million. Projections indicated a faculty of approximately 50 to 60 instructors with a payroll estimated at $1 million.

State and federal sources would provide financial construction of the facility and meet operational costs. Localities served by the college were to provide funds for purchase of the property, installation of water and sewer, and site improvements.

As reported by Franklin City Manager Harold Atkinson, an option was secured on the Rawls property but financial arrangements were incomplete. Cost of the Rawls tract was expected to be in the $75,000 to $80,000 range. Costs for water and sewer and site improvements were estimated at close to $300,000.

Consensus for supporting the Isle of Wight location and its costs was essential for the actual establishment of a community college in Region 21. Other regions in other parts of the state were in competition for prioritization and allocation of state and federal construction funds — and final approval by the VCCB.

Although the VCCB had tentatively approved the Isle of Wight site, before their decision could be finalized, all of the participating jurisdictions had to agree on location and their proportional financial support. All along, officials in Suffolk and Nansemond had campaigned strongly for location of the college on the P.D. Pruden Farm, on U.S. 460 in Nansemond County, or, secondarily, on a site on U.S. Route 58 just east of Holland — also in Nansemond County. They believed their area would be best served by location of the college closer to their populations. Suffolk Mayor James Hope and Vice Mayor James McLemore were the most outspoken critics of the Franklin-Isle of Wight location. They made reference to the fact that nearby Frederick College, in the Sleepy Hole district of Nansemond County, could serve their community higher-educational needs.   

In Nansemond, Jarvis Howell, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he was willing to talk things over and reportedly felt that the Isle of Wight site, if actually chosen, deserved financial support from his county. In Isle of Wight County, Board of Supervisors Chairman Gurley Barlow and Vice Chairman William Camp Jr., both, were in support of the proposed Rawls location.

Camp said, “I think it is a fine selection. I believe we can get the money together to support its location here.”   

Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight subsequently met in an attempt to work out the major portion of the needed financing among themselves, leaving out Nansemond County and Suffolk. But, soon, it became increasingly apparent that even Franklin, Southampton, and Isle of Wight could not reach agreement to any kind of pro-rated sharing of the costs.

However, in late January of 1969, as reported in the Feb. 3, 1969 edition of The Tidewater News, an interesting turn of events occurred. Unknown to most people, a 100-acre tract in the City limits of Franklin, previously passed over by the VCCB when it chose the Isle of Wight site, was being RE-considered as location of the Region 21 community college.

The land, located adjacent to the new Franklin-Newsoms Road (later called Armory Drive,) across from the Peanut Growers Cooperative Association building, was offered by Franklin officials. Owners Willie Camp Younts, of Atlanta, Georgia, and her sister, Ruth Camp Campbell, of Franklin, daughters of the late Paul D. Camp, said they would make that site available for the college without cost. And, that site would have water, sewer, and electrical connections, along with police and fire protection.

Still, bowing to pressure and persuasion put forth by Isle of Wight officials, coupled with the fact that the Franklin site was less central in Region 21, the VCCB passed over it in favor of the Rawls-Isle of Wight site. Shortly after, Suffolk and Nansemond officials, in an obvious “about- face,” balked at putting up money to finance the Rawls site, “when the board could put it on the free site in Franklin, just two miles away.”   

Concerned about the inability of the local governments to resolve their differences, Gov. Mills Godwin, himself a resident of Chuckatuck, in Nansemond County, called a meeting in Richmond. Attending: Mayor James Hope and City Manager James Causey Jr. of Suffolk; Mayor Darden Jones and City Manager Harold Atkinson of Franklin; Board of Supervisors Chairman Jarvis Howell and Commonwealth Attorney Joshua Pretlow of Nansemond; Board of Supervisors Chairman Gurley Barlow and Vice Chairman William Camp Jr. of Isle of Wight; Board of Supervisors Chairman Will Story and Executive Secretary George Bryant of Southampton. Also, attending: State Senator William Rawlings of Capron and Del. Sam Pope of Drewryville.    

Although there were some “rumblings” among those in attendance, Godwin, after much discussion, was successful in his effort to bring the factions together in support of the Franklin site. Very soon after the meeting, Gov. Godwin went before the VCCB and asked that they reconsider their earlier decision.

There were concerns that the Campbell-Younts site might not NOW be available. It WAS available, and, as it turns out, the VCCB, as announced in the June 9, 1969 edition of The Tidewater News, rescinded their earlier “Rawls-Isle of Wight” decision and approved the “Campbell/Younts-Franklin” location.

Eugene Sydnor, VCCB chairman, said that planning will get underway shortly.

“Construction is scheduled to begin in 1970 with the college expected to open for students in 1971.”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net