Educational makeover

Published 10:23 pm Saturday, August 20, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on the history of North Suffolk. Look for the rest of the series in upcoming Sunday editions of the Suffolk News-Herald.

Once a military facility, then a beacon of higher education in North Suffolk, the former Tidewater Community College campus now sits mostly unused — but that’s about to change in coming years.

The property has had a long and storied history. Developed originally in 1917 to store munitions during the first and second World Wars, the site was called the “Pig Point Ordnance Depot and was prime real estate for the military.

Email newsletter signup

In 1929, it was renamed the Nansemond Ordnance Depot. While it continued to work as a storage and shipping facility, the location also added Camp Nansemond, which included tents and barracks, where soldiers could stay for a short time.

The military used the location until the Beazley Foundation approached the state about opening a college.

In 1959, Frederick W. Beazley and the Beazley Foundation acquired the land and converted the old barracks into dormitories. Frederick College opened its doors to students for the first time two years later.

But Frederick College was only open for seven years when Beazley decided he wanted to turn over the keys to the state.

TCC president Deborah M. DiCroce said Gov. Mills E. Godwin was looking to open a community college in the Tidewater area when Beazley approached him with an offer.

“He and his foundation donated all the buildings on the property, plus the infrastructure of the college and a check for $1 million to start TCC,” she said. “That was the beginning of TCC in 1968.”

When the college started accepting students in 1968, they called the site the Frederick Campus. But in the mid-‘80s, the college underwent what might seem like an unusual name change.

DiCroce said it was called the Portsmouth Campus, despite its location in Suffolk, because most of the students it was serving were from the neighboring city.

The site served TCC students for academic and workforce development up until January 2010. That’s when the college moved its operations to a brand-new Portsmouth campus.

“We were trying to establish a site right here in Portsmouth,” DiCroce said. “Community college campuses function best when they are right in the muck of a community.”

But the facility is still used off and on by the college and other organizations.

TCC’s truck driving program is still hosted there, as well as training for workforce development. It’s also occasionally used by community organizations and the military for functions and events, DiCroce said.

“It’s used very heavily,” she said. “It’s a really nice facility.”

But the future of the site still hangs in the balance. Earlier this year, city and college officials hired the Urban Land Institute to develop a solution for development of the site.

The ULI panel suggested a multi-use community that would include retail space, office buildings, restaurants, an assortment of residences and public use space.

DiCroce said the ULI study was just the first step in developing a plan for the space.

“I think it’s a good first step in taking it to this next level of looking at best use,” she said. “It’s a complicated, complex process.”

She added the next step in the process would be to complete a best use study, which would last about a year.

And as leaders discuss the future of the site, DiCroce said she wants to ensure the community will be happy with the decision.

“When someone sees it in 20 years, they should look at it and say ‘They did the right thing,’” she said.