The American College of the Building Arts' took one step closer to accreditation as it celebrated the opening of the new permanent campus inside the renovated 19th century Trolley Barn on Upper Meeting Street Thursday.
The only school in the country that offers four-year degrees in old-time building techniques, including masonry and ironwork, the college's former campuses included an old Navy storehouse, a modest warehouse on James Island and a 19th century jail in downtown Charleston.
The Trolley Barn renovation was completed in early September just in time for the new semester with a final price tag of roughly $5 million, the bulk of which — $3.5 million — was funded through private donations. About 300 people toured the facility Thursday afternoon.
"What's really remarkable about this school is how it ties into the preservation and heritage in our city," said Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg at Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"I look at it as us as a city as having this special responsibility to share this incredible place that we've preserved and to teach others how to do the same and this facility teaches that important craftsmanship and ability to preserve not only here in Charleston, but in other places around the world."
The three-story, 38,000-square-foot facility features a mix of classrooms, offices, and large workshops for teaching trades like, masonry, carpentry, stone carving, timber framing and iron work. A third-floor library is imbued with natural light.
The need for the college was noted shortly after Hurricane Hugo, when preservationists became alarmed by how few craftsmen had the knowledge to repair the city’s damaged historic buildings. The college was licensed in 2004 but is still seeking accreditation, now through the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Retired Lt. Gen. Colby Broadwater, the college’s president, said he believes the new campus will help the school's accreditation application.
"'Dramatically' is not a powerful enough word," Broadwater said of the new campus' impact on the college's pursuit for accreditation. "The accreditation process in the past was hindered by us not having appropriate facilities."
Once accredited, the college’s students would be eligible for federal student loans, which is expected to boost enrollment. The college enrolled 61 students this fall. Eventually, Broadwater hopes the college campus will eventually boast its own dormitory and house between 180 and 200 students.
Andrew Ward, a junior at the college studying iron work, said he misses the "character" of the old Charleston jail, where he used to attend classes, but he's happy he no longer has to make the 30-minute drive to the iron workshops on James Island.
"It's a nicer, newer building, so we're able to make it our own building," he added. "The fact that it has air-conditioning is also a little plus."