Excited about change at TCC

Published 7:37 pm Saturday, February 26, 2011

My first memory of the old Portsmouth Campus of Tidewater Community College was as a child going with my parents to take a dog to an obedience class. The trip from Portsmouth into what would have been Nansemond County at the time was a drive into the country, and this college campus with its concrete buildings all angles and circles seemed like something out of science fiction to a little boy who already had a propensity to see things in that light during the heyday of the U.S. space program. The contrast between the two impressions planted the seeds of what would become for me a love of this little corner of the world.

Through the years, the campus has come to seem worn and dated on my occasional visits. The science-fiction quality is long gone, leaving behind a sad sense of a government agency that was abandoned in place. And in a way, that’s exactly what happened on the old school campus. With longtime plans to move into Portsmouth, TCC never really pursued long-term improvements to the school that was located in Suffolk. And environmental problems, along with the knowledge that there are munitions buried in parts of the old Nansemond Ordnance Depot there, helped assure that the property would not be a permanent home for the college.

But it was always a special place for me and for many others here in Suffolk. The fields at the old TCC campus are one of the best public places in Suffolk for flying a kite, and I’ve done so many times. I taught one of my grandsons to ride a bike in the vast parking lots there. I’ve enjoyed picnics, watched people casting their fishing lines into the river, watched and photographed many sunsets there. I’ve watched nor’easters and hurricanes churn the water there, and I’ve enjoyed the serenity and peace of a sunny (or even overcast) afternoon just sitting by the waterfront.

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One of the lessons of living in the northern part of Suffolk is that everything changes. The Purple Lady no longer strolls the side of Route 17, you can’t stop for hamburger steak and shoestring French fries at George and Steve’s restaurant, and there are stoplights all the way from Churchland to the James River Bridge today. Things were bound to change at the old TCC campus one day, and city officials spent most of the week pursuing a vision of how that change will manifest itself.

Gone will be the vast, open spaces of the past, replaced by office buildings and retail spaces and restaurants and condominiums. And that’s not a bad thing. This is, in fact, an extremely valuable property that must encompass a broad array of uses. I’m pleased to see that the plans recommended by a group of consultants brought to lead the discussion in Suffolk all include large public spaces, including a waterfront promenade, fishing piers, kayak access, open fields and a water feature that will make you wish you were 4 again.

The plan as presented preserves the waterfront at the TCC campus as public property and groups residential and commercial uses in areas away from the most picturesque parts of the site. If the city and the college’s real estate foundation work together to bring the plan to fruition, Suffolk will be able to boast one of the premier waterfront attractions in all of Hampton Roads. That feels like an appropriate fate for this place that so many of us have loved through the years.

res spears is the editor of the Suffolk News-Herald. He can be reached at 757.934.9616 or at res.spears@suffolknewsherald.com.