The crown jewel of Rowan College at Burlington County's campus transformation was finally unveiled on Monday, and the reviews were glowing.
RCBC showed off the 78,000-square-foot Student Success Center's features with a media tour, leading visitors through its library, bookstore, cafeteria, enrollment and financial aid service centers, study lounges, and even an express Starbucks.
"Wow,"RCBC President Paul Drayton said when seeing the facility. "And that has been the reaction of the entire college community."
"The beauty of the building, the design of the building, how it's laid out and it being a student-centric building really comes through. It absolutely met all of our expectations," he said.
Drayton kicked off the tour standing in front of a huge TV screen with 20 monitors, where he said students can gather to watch events like the March Madness college basketball tournament.
The screen was just one part of the building's overall modern feel. The walls are almost entirely made of glass windows, there's a futuristic-looking fireplace in one of the study lounges, and most of the desks include charging stations to embrace a new digital learning atmosphere.
At 55 feet high, the two-story structure has a spacious center atrium, with high ceilings, a dining room capable of holding over 250 people, and a total capacity of about 1,700. The main area is wide open, breaking off into two wings that reveal more intimate sections for students to study and work together.
"Just walking up to the building, I was struck by the overall mood of it, the color, the structure. It had a really modern look to it. I was really taken back by it," said Daniel Richards, a sophomore from Willingboro.
Richards said the awe he felt when seeing the center from the outside was matched when he got to go in and roam around.
"You have so many different spaces that students are able to be a part of," he said, and he was most excited about grabbing some Starbucks between classes.
The Student Success Center is the flagship of a 2½-year remodeling process of the township campus that started when Burlington County College partnered with Rowan University to create the rebranded Rowan College at Burlington County, bringing with it the new campus plan, course offerings and tuition initiatives.
The makeover is expected to cost about $55 million and involves remodeling existing buildings and constructing the center. On Tuesday, RCBC will unveil its Health and Sciences Center, a 38,000-square-foot building that underwent close to $10 million in renovations. The transformation phases out the long-standing campus in Pemberton Township by 2018.
"This campus is transitioning into a true four-year campus," Drayton said. "It was a satellite campus — drive in, drive out — and that needed to change."
Since adding the 3+1 initiative, the college has started to accept students for a third year and even in some circumstances their fourth.
The initiative gives them the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree by attending three years at RCBC and automatically transferring to Rowan University for the last year, taking advantage of RCBC’s low tuition for three years instead of two. Some students also have the option of taking Rowan University fourth-year classes on RCBC's campus.
The Student Success Center was the first thing the college determined it needed when making the decision to close the Pemberton Township campus.
"To be able to give them a space where they can do everything they need to do, from registering to studying, to using the library, to just resting, was very important," Drayton said.
The facility was designed with students in mind, as college officials met with them through the design phase to find out what they wanted on their campus, he said. It turned out they were looking for a big, open space where they could congregate, collaborate and create an on-campus community feel.
"I think this building makes us a leader in community colleges," said Burlington County Freeholder Linda Hughes, who followed along during the tour.
Hughes was on RCBC's board of trustees when the building was in its conceptual stage.
From its groundbreaking to today, the building took a year to complete. Terminal Construction Corp., of Wood-Ridge, Bergen County, received a $25.4 million contract to build it, as well as a parking lot, a road to loop around the campus, and the quad out in front of it.