President: Three Rivers will be part of higher education center

Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The Three Rivers Community College campus in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Daily American Republican file)

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- As he stood next to a Poplar Bluff hotel he plans to turn into a worker retraining center Monday, Three Rivers Community College president Devin Stephenson said he will not give up on plans to also establish new facilities in Cape Girardeau County.

He said the college was not included in negotiations with Southeast Missouri State University and Mineral Area College when the institutions drafted proposals for a higher education center.

"They left us out," he said.

Stephenson said he is drafting a counterproposal to include the three institutions. He said he also wants to include the city of Jackson and Saint Francis Medical Center in the conversations.

He said he will have a meeting with Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins and Mineral Area president Dr. Steven Kurtz within the next two weeks.

Three Rivers Community College president Devin Stephenson and Roberty Drury are seen during a news conference Monday in Poplar Bluff. Drury Hotels made a multimillion dollar donation to the school. (Paul Davis ~ Daily American Republic)

"A proposal that does not include [Three Rivers] will not be approved," he said.

Monday, Stephenson accepted a multimillion dollar donation from Drury Hotels, one of the businesses represented on the 11-member coalition that has been evaluating higher education in the county. The hotel chain donated the Poplar Bluff Pear Tree Inn and neighboring restaurant on North Westwood Boulevard.

Stephenson said he plans to use the two facilities totaling 76,320 square feet for worker retraining programs and to build technology programs for allied medical and criminal justice programs. He said he also wants to use the hotel restaurant to launch a culinary arts program.

Drury Southwest president Dennis Vollink said Three Rivers' expansion will benefit the region.

"When they expand, they help the employment," he said.

A new higher education center in Cape Girardeau will also bring more employment, he said. As the coalition works out the details, he said his focus is expanding opportunities for students.

"Something is going to happen that is going to be great," he said.

Stephenson said he supports putting a facility in Jackson. If the university locates there, the city will donate 15 acres off U.S. 61.

"There needs to be a teaching site there," he said.

He said he wants to include Saint Francis Medical Center to help expand allied medical programs.

"The real question that needs to be asked is why were they left out," he said.

Saint Francis spokeswoman Felecia Blanton said hospital officials have met with the college president.

"We're open to any and all sources that would provide additional education for any number of health care professions," she said.

Dobbins said he did not deliberately leave Three Rivers out of discussions. He said it was more practical for Southeast and Mineral Area to base their proposal on their established relationship at the Perryville Higher Education Center.

"Instead of reinventing the wheel, we thought it would be wise to do a pilot for three years," he said.

He said he planned to include Three Rivers as the center evolved, depending on demand for its services. He said he is willing to listen to Stephenson's proposal, but said it will have to be "seamless" and easily accessible for students.

Southeast's plan calls for technical training at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center, where Mineral Area already offers programming. Locating a facility for general education courses in Jackson away from the career center would be less accessible for students, he said.

"It'll be more difficult for students to get back and forth," he said.

Southeast is looking to establish a center near West Park Mall that would be ready by fall 2010.

Stephenson said he could convert a facility on U.S. 61 near Interstate 55 by January 2010. He said the college has accomplished similar projects in the past.

During the summer of 2005 the college opened centers in six locations throughout Southeast Missouri, including Sikeston.

"We know how to do that better than a regional college," Stephenson said. "We know how to do that better than a technical school."

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

One University Plaza Cape Girardeau, MO

2080 Three Rivers Boulevard Poplar Bluff, MO

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