A long-held educational dream is finally being realized in Dorchester County as plans get underway for one of the state’s top technical colleges to open another local campus by 2020.
The county announced on Tuesday that County Council authorized at its July 15 meeting in Summerville for the county administrator to negotiate a lease for the county. The campus is the first Trident Tech one in Dorchester County and fifth in the tri-county region.
"This is a game-changer for our county, the Oakbrook community, and especially our people,' said Councilman Jay Byars in a statement.
Byars represents the district where the facility will be located.
The roughly 28,000-square-foot facility will be located next to the Aldi grocery store in the Oakbrook area. The school will operate inside the former Big Lots store on Dorchester Road, the county said.
Trident Tech already maintains campuses in Berkeley and Charleston counties, including Moncks Corner, Mt. Pleasant, downtown Charleston and North Charleston. There are also other sites, not full campuses, including QuickJobs Training Center in St. George in Dorchester County and Hollywood.
For years, Dorchester County has been the Palmetto State’s largest county lacking a tech school, prompting county leaders to identify the need as a vital one listed in the county’s strategic plan.
"County Council and County staff have been working to bring higher education opportunities to Dorchester County for some time," said Council Chair George Bailey, in a statement. "I am thrilled to see the hard work of so many finally coming to fruition."
Several renovations are required before the new campus can open. The county said construction upgrades will focus on the building’s exterior, parking lot and outside lighting.
County and school officials said they believe an additional campus will not only ease area traffic congestion in roadways surrounding the current two campuses but also classroom sizes, since about 2,700 Dorchester County residents were enrolled in classes at the two out-of-county campuses in fall 2018, the county said. The total Trident Tech student population at that time was nearly 12,150.
County leaders are also touting the future economic development benefits of opening the new campus, as the region's industrial sector continues to grow, along with the workforce. They said the school's presence in Oakbrook will stimulate the economy, help with the county's goal to revitalize that area, and aid more localized Trident Tech students in their future career efforts.
"This is the single most impactful step that Dorchester County could take to prepare for the 30,000 jobs that are coming to the region over the next five years," said John Truluck, the county's economic development director. "Our citizens deserve better access to higher education."
Mary Thornley, president of Trident Tech, echoed Truluck's thoughts.
“We look forward to making workforce opportunities more accessible to Dorchester County students," she said. "It is rewarding to work with visionary Dorchester County staff and elected officials to make this campus a reality.”
In addition to general education classes like English and history, the Oakbrook campus will offer technology-related classes including computer programming and cybersecurity, along with an HVAC program and biology classes, such as anatomy and physiology, which are part of health sciences degrees.
"This (campus) will greatly improve our quality of life locally and education opportunities for everyone," Byars said in a statement.
There’s currently no set timeline; however, county officials anticipate the campus welcoming its first students in January 2020.