A look inside the Trolley Barn (copy) (copy)

The American College of the Building Arts in the old Trolley Barn on Meeting Street. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Fourteen years after its creation to teach ironwork, carpentry and other traditional building arts, the American College of the Building Arts has taken a big step forward.

The Charleston school received national accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, a step that not only reaffirms its current curriculum but also opens the door for more students and for graduates to seek higher degrees.

“The accreditation process ensures that potential employers and graduate schools will know what we’ve known for a long time,” said the college's president, retired Lt. Gen. Colby Broadwater. "Students who graduate from this unique institution bring the requisite skills and broad educational background needed to excel."

The accreditation also means that students may apply for federal financial aid, and that could be crucial to expanding its student body.

The college has had relatively few students since it opened its doors shortly after getting state approval in 2004. It currently has 76 enrolled, well shy of the 180 to 200 students that it considers its ideal size, said spokeswoman Leigh Handal.

It also has graduated about 90 students, many of whom still work in the area, she said. 

Initially created as the School of the Building Arts, the college grew out of local concerns following Hurricane Hugo, when many had a hard time finding workers with skills to restore plaster, shingle roofs and other traditional construction. While Europe has schools to train artisans in traditional crafts, the college was created to fill a void here.

The college bills itself as the nation's only four-year college that combines a liberal arts curriculum with professional training in the traditional building arts, including timber framing, architectural wood, forged iron, plaster, stone carving and masonry. This fall, it added a specialization in classical architecture and design to its curriculum.

Tuition is $9,936 per semester, excluding fees, room and board, and it has not changed since the school began in 2005, Handal said, adding it also awards about $250,000 in scholarships each year.

Its accreditation was made possible in part by its 2016 move to the renovated trolley barn at 649 Meeting St., which offered more flexible and suitable space than inside the Old City Jail on Magazine Street, where the college spent most of its earliest years.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.