Virginia Western Breaks Ground on New STEM Facility

The $30-million-plus project will create a modern learning environment to train the region’s workforce.

A stand alone, 72,000 square feet, 30 million dollar building dedicated to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – STEM – will rise from the parking lot at Virginia Western Community College by 2019.

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held outside the Student Life Building in late July. The project, which will include STEM-related lab space, will also gobble up 300-plus parking spaces, so the construction also includes a parking garage.

“An exciting and wonderful day, not just for Virginia Western but for the Roanoke Valley … and our region,” said Dr. Robert “Bobby” Sandel at the groundbreaking. Collating the entire STEM curriculum into one building has been on the drawing boards for a while and will soon be a reality. Sandel said the STEM building would help “move the region forward,” as it ties into his consistent mantra of workforce development.

SFCS is the architectural firm and Branch Construction will build it. Sandel noted that Virginia Western is a “70 acre, boxed in campus,” so growing more buildings is a complex undertaking. Also in the works: the parking lot between the Student Life Building and the new STEM complex will be turned from asphalt into greenspace,  “to give [students] a more collegial feel about what they’re doing.”

The plan also includes a new main entrance for the campus, away from McNeil Drive and towards the entrance now near the school police station. Colonial Avenue will be reworked in that area to include several traffic roundabouts, sidewalks and landscaping. “It will be an educational corridor, a very sophisticated entrance,” said Sandel.

Roanoke City Vice Mayor Anita Price said she could not even begin to estimate how important Virginia Western has become to the valley since being established 50-plus years ago.  “An integral part of this community,” said Price, who noted that the workforce training at VWCC in courses like Mechatronics also helped attract major employers like Deschutes Brewery and Eldor Manufacturing in recent years. “We have the ability to produce a skilled workforce that employers are looking for.”

Gene Marrano