PALESTINE — Overcoming one setback after another, the move to turn part of city-owned Palestine Mall into a thriving educational facility appears to be back on track with big plans for the future.
Trinity Valley Community College at Palestine is developing a workforce education center in the mall to train college students for going directly to work or for training workers already in the field that want retraining or to get more skills training.
TVCC-Palestine also plans accommodations where high school pupils could earn dual high school and college credits to get an early jumpstart on college while at the same time completing the high school curriculum.
TVCC-Palestine is giving new life to the mall project after it was thwarted when an early college high school housed there folded due to cutbacks in state funding.
But TVCC-Palestine, which started out with a limited program in the mall along with the early college high school, stepped up its involvement and has taken on operation of the west end of the mall for educational purposes by itself. TVCC-Palestine has plans to expand with more programs that would attract more students to the mall.
“I think if it’s handled well, it could lead to some enormous growth and great potential for the college and for the area,” Dr. Jeffrey Watson, provost of TVCC-Palestine, said.
Enrollment in programs based at the mall could increase to 150 to 200 in the near future and to about 500 in four years, Watson said. That’s in addition to the approximately 1,400 students on TVCC-Palestine’s main campus on Texas Highway 19.
“To us, it’s an amazing growth to think that we could jump that high in that short a time,” Watson said.
“I hope we can put some programs out there that we can sustain and get that growth. I’m positive it will be good for the City of Palestine and (Anderson) county. It will be good for all of us.”
TVCC-Palestine officials are looking at focusing on workforce education at the mall and refer to the facility as the TVCC-Palestine Workforce Education Center.
“That (workforce training) is something in Palestine we have not done a lot of, and I think it’s an important part of community college education. It’s something we are hoping we can get going and we look forward to work with the community on,” Watson said.
“We will be able to help area businesses retrain workers and help the city by having a trained workforce for new businesses.”
Workforce training offered by TVCC-Palestine currently is limited to cosmetology, nursing and computer science. A lot of students interested in workforce programs are referred to TVCC-Athens currently because the Palestine campus does not have ability to serve them.
TVCC-Palestine currently occupies the periphery of a large area in the mall that formerly housed a call center for Blue Cross Blue Shield before it shut down. The college plans to expand into the middle of that area. TVCC-Palestine rents the facility from the city.
At present, TVCC-Palestine conducts in the mall a vocational nursing program, a certified nursing aid program and a manufacturing or mechanical engineering technology program, which will move to Athens but be replaced with other programs.
Start of new programs is contingent upon state funding and grants.
“We are hoping we can get a welding program started there; we think that this area needs a welding program,” Watson said.
Depending on whether funding can be arranged, Watson added, “We are looking at the possibility of starting an advanced manufacturing program which would include welding, but it would also have some basic machine shop and some computerized shop equipment. It would encompass robotics and different theories or philosophies in manufacturing.”
Watson further hopes to move TVCC-Palestine’s cosmetology program from its campus about three miles north of town to the mall. That would give the college room to expand and maybe double enrollment in its cosmetology program.
That would increase total enrollment in all programs to about 150 to 200 students at the mall in the near future, Watson estimated.
TVCC-Palestine also is considering other programs for the mall, such as a criminal justice program that it might conduct there in conjunction with Palestine Police Department.
“We hope we can piggyback with them to jumpstart our criminal justice program here,” Watson said. TVCC has a good criminal justice program in Athens, but would like to get one started in Palestine as well, he said.
Those are the most immediate goals that TVCC-Palestine has for the mall, but it is also considering an automotive program and expanding computer aided drafting.
In addition, TVCC-Palestine officials have communicated with area school superintendents about the possibility of moving toward offering some more dual credit classes in the mall.
It probably will convert space into three traditional classrooms that would be available for classes in January with Palestine High School and some other area high schools, Watson said.
Currently TVCC-Palestine offers dual credit courses in English, literature and math and the mall would be an excellent place to locate them in the future, Watson said.
When use of the mall for education began two years ago, an early college high school program that TVCC was involved in allowed students to take high school and college courses to earn a high school diploma and credits toward a two-year associate college degree.
TVCC originally had a partnership with Texas State Technical College to start some programs and decided to continue on its own after TSTC bowed out due to state funding cuts.
“It will take us a lot longer without their help, but we’re hoping we can get everything started,” Watson said.
The mall gives TVCC-Palestine the ability to add technology and workforce courses that it probably couldn’t add on its main campus because it does not have facilities available and probably could not build them in this time of tight budgets, he added.