IW supervisors propose ending college’s lease of Smithfield campus

Published 12:35 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:06 p.m. on June 15 to clarify Paul D. Camp Director of Institutional Advancement Jeff Zeigler’s initial reaction to the vote.

Paul D. Camp Community College’s presence in Smithfield may come to an end in 2024.

Isle of Wight County supervisors are proposing to terminate the college’s lease of the old Smithfield High School on James Street.

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When the circa-1921 school closed in 1980 and a new Smithfield High opened on Turner Drive, county officials saved a 1960s-era two-story wing of the old school and repurposed it to house the Blackwater Regional Library’s Smithfield branch and Luter Family YMCA. Since 1993, the county has leased the second floor to Paul D. Camp as the Franklin-based college’s Smithfield campus.

Paul D. Camp’s lease would terminate on June 30, 2024, if not renewed. Per the terms of the lease, the county must provide notice of intent to terminate the lease 12 months in advance. The supervisors voted unanimously on June 1 at the urging of Supervisor Dick Grice to direct County Attorney Bobby Jones to send the college the required termination notice.

According to Grice, the county leases the 10,754-square-foot facility to the college at no cost. Now, the building needs roughly $500,000 in maintenance, including a new roof and heating and air conditioning system.

“There’s nobody there, and I keep going back constantly, I’ve been in that building at least 12 times in the last two months,” Grice contended.

He says he’s spoken preliminarily with potential tenants who he estimates would be willing to pay the county roughly $45,000 per year for the space.

Paul D. Camp Director of Institutional Advancement Jeff Zeigler was initially unaware of the discussion of the lease and subsequent vote, as the matter was not listed on the supervisors’ June 1 agenda.

Jones previously wrote  to Paul D. Camp President Corey McCray in 2022 on behalf of the supervisors, stating that while his letter was “not a notice of termination” the board was “considering termination” should an agreement to allow public education programs in the classroom and lab space not be reached.

Jones’ June 5 letter to McCray asserts the communication to serve as “official notification” of the board’s intent to terminate the lease.

Jones, at the supervisors’ June 1 meeting, noted the supervisors have the option of rescinding the notice and continuing the lease should they be inclined to do so.

McCray, following a June 12 meeting of the college’s board of directors, stated, “We are reaching out to the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors to discuss the action and consider a way forward.”

There were 40 college courses scheduled in the space when it opened in 1993, ranging from basic algebra and U.S. history to creative writing and child psychology, according to past reporting by The Smithfield Times. Zeigler contends the space is now used as a site for faculty teaching online courses to record their lessons, though the site still hosts in-person classes too.

The college also uses the site to host community events, such as one in May held in conjunction with the Smithfield branch of The Children’s Center, also on James Street, and an event in March on the history of the former high school.

The college recently expanded its Franklin campus by purchasing the former Tidewater News office on Armory Drive for $750,000. Zeigler says it will be used for the college’s nursing and allied health programs. It would not be used to relocate what’s currently in Smithfield, he said.