Vatterott College builds new campus in Fairview Heights

Local and aspiring students have another school to choose from.

Vatterott College has built a new campus in Fairview Heights. The new 16,000-square-foot school is at 110 Commerce Lane and is the first metro-east site for the St. Louis-based private and proprietary post-secondary education company.

Fairview Heights contractor Impact Strategies built the school within the footprint of the former Frank's Nursery retail store and greenhouse, which had closed about four years ago.

"It's cool," Impact Strategies President Mark Hinrichs said. "In fact, not only did we renovate and build in Frank's Nursery, we also spilled over into the (Rhodes) Furniture store that had been vacant for some time."

The new college is the latest to set a foothold in metro-east. Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., established a campus at the former Belleville West High School six years ago. Impact Strategies developed the new Sanford Brown campus in Collinsville five years ago and built an addition to the building two years later. The developer also has just completed a new cafeteria at Belleville East High School and is working on a new classroom and cafeteria expansion at Pontiac School in Fairview Heights.

The new Vatterott College building includes classrooms built and designed to teach welding, a classroom equipped with medical equipment to train future medical assistants and computer labs for various technical courses. Cathy Plunkett, who will oversee the new campus as regional director, said the first "session" -- or 10-week semester -- will begin Oct. 19. She said the school had gradually looked toward the east side of the Mississippi River for expansion.

"Our NorthPark Campus in St. Louis is regularly pulling students from Illinois, so there was clearly a need here," Plunkett said. "There was a void for education, so it was the perfect spot. It really was. To move into this area some place, just go over the river, we're not that far from St. Louis, but it's amazing the number of students we're pulling."

Since the large, bright-blue sign went up on the building three months ago, more than 300 potential students have inquired about the new campus. Applicants are now being interviewed and are touring the new classrooms.

Vatterott College built its first campus in St. Louis in 1969. In 2003, Vatterott Education Centers Inc. was established as the college's parent company. The school has since branched into nine states and includes L'(*131*)cole Culinaire culinary schools in St. Louis and Memphis. The Fairview Heights campus becomes the college's 23rd site.

College community relations coordinator Toni Hatch said Vatterott's annual enrollment has been 7,500 students.

Plunkett anticipates as many as 1,000 students will enroll at the new campus. She also said the morning, afternoon and evening class schedules provide an ideal arrangement for students going to school while holding down jobs.

"So many of our students are working part-time or full-time," she said. "So when you've got three different times during the day when they can attend classes, that gives them some real flexibility in how they manage their schedule."

Hatch said another aspect that separates Vatterott from other traditional colleges is that it tracks its students' progress as well as their well-being. The school even makes sure that students in need do not go without.

"We held a lot of fundraisers at our campuses," Hatch said. "That money goes to a student fund where the campus they've gone to purchased bus passes, they've purchased gift cards to grocery stores, whatever the need might be. Whenever they find out that a student has a need, then they are able to help that student out."

Plunkett said aside from the career services for resume writing and career placement, some Vatterott campuses have food pantries that are stocked with donations provided by students and employees. It's very student-focused, she said.

"Sometimes of our students have some fear and some nervousness, and we have people on campus specifically to help and support the students. They may go to school and all of the sudden find out, 'What am I going to do about child care or other issues that come up?' Traditionally, colleges don't pay much attention to that. We really do because we really focus on the whole student because we understand that this is a whole experience."

The college is also tied to the communities it serves. Vatterott is accredited through an advisory committee, composed of citizens who host "pack meetings" for public input.

"People from the community are invited in to take a look at our curriculum, take a look at our facility and to give recommendations to us," Plunkett said.

"What we're trying to do is make our students are ready to go right into the workforce. So we need to have that partnership with the community, and it helps for them to advise us on what our programs need, and then we work with the community to place our students as well. It's really a big circle. It starts with the community, it ends with the community."

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