Thursday, 23 September 2021 16:14

Partnerships lauded in Richmond Community College building dedication

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Claudia and Kenneth Robinette speak Wednesday at the dedication of Richmond Community College's downtown campus, which bears their names. Claudia and Kenneth Robinette speak Wednesday at the dedication of Richmond Community College's downtown campus, which bears their names. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — “Partnership” was the word of the day Wednesday during the dedication of the Kenneth and Claudia Robinette Building, Richmond Community College’s downtown campus.


The ceremony was held two days shy of three years from the “wall-breaking” ceremony prior to two landmark buildings — the former clothing store owned by Mike Long and furniture store owned by longtime Sheriff R. W. Goodman — being torn down for what college President Dr. Dale McInnis called “another landmark.”

The building was named for the C.F. Smith Property Group power couple who have both served leadership roles in the community: Kenneth as chairman of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners for more than 20 years; and Claudia as a member of the college’s Board of Trustees since 1998 and chair since 2013.

The 40,000-square-foot facility — which features 19 classrooms and labs, as well as conference rooms features 19 classrooms and labs — houses the Leon Levine School of Business and Technology, the Small Business Center and the Cybersecurity and Pharmacy Technology programs. 

Although Levine wasn’t in attendance, he is “delighted by” the college’s presence on that particular city block, according to Tom Lawrence, president of the Leon Levine Foundation.

Levine got his start in the retail business at The Hub, his family’s shop in downtown Rockingham and created the bargain basement which eventually led to the formation of Family Dollar.

“Rockingham is a resilient place where collaboration and innovation converge,” Lawrence said. “It’s exciting to see Richmond Community College providing the resources and opportunities that are already shaping the future …”

Lawrence said the Levine Foundation’s contribution to the project was just for the building.

“We’re investing in the potential of inquiring minds making their mark in Rockingham and beyond,” Lawrence said. “We’re hopeful that the knowledge imparted in this building will set students on a trajectory for sustainable careers in the sectors that endured (the pandemic).”

The Robinettes also spoke on the intended impact of the building on current and future students.

“We’re changing lives, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Kenneth Robinette. 

Claudia Robinette mentioned two students in particular, including Kalyon Sparkman of Laurel Hill.

Sparkman, a soldier in the Army National Guard, is studying Information Technology.

“RCC is a blessing to me; I’m thankful for the experience I’ve been given,” Sparkman said. “Experience and education go hand in hand; I’m glad I have the both of them.”

Claudia Robinette said there were many more stories like Sparkman’s throughout the college.

BUILDING A DREAM

Mayor Steve Morris recalled how the idea for the downtown college campus came about.

Morris said the Brian Collier, of the Foundation for the Carolinas, arranged a tour of Hartsville, South Carolina for city and county leaders “to see what we could do and pick up some ideas on how to continue to expand and improve downtown Rockingham.”

“After seeing the interaction of Coker College and the city of Hartsville, and how their growth was intertwined, our city began to explore ideas of how to locate a college campus in downtown,” Morris said, adding that Richmond Community College was “a logical choice.”

“And so the ideas began to flow and the plans and proposals were made, and not too long thereafter, many of us gathered on this very spot to break ground for this new campus,” Morris continued.

Morris and several others credited Collier’s leadership in helping bring the plan to fruition.

“Just as with the Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham project, Brian Collier was the main cog that kept the wheel turning,” Morris said.

Sandy Ridley, of the Cole Foundation, said projects in the scope of the downtown campus “do not happen in a vacuum.”

“They all begin with vision, collaboration, leadership and hard work,” Ridley said. “Certainly we’ve had some very good leadership in this community.”

Ridley added that the boards of the Cole Foundation and the Community Foundation of Richmond County, were thinking what they could do to mirror what was done in Hartsville to have an impact in Rockingham.

“(We) wanted to continue those long-term impacts, like we had achieved with Discovery Place Kids, and we wanted to see something that would benefit the whole community,” Ridley said.

Others credited for their leadership roles included McInnis, Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump and Assistant City Manager and Planner John Massey.

“What we have here today is just an example ... when people get together with one common goal in mind and put everything else outside of it … of what we can do,” said Frank Jenkins of the Community Foundation. “It’s just exciting to be part of it.”

Rep. Ben Moss, who was on the Richmond County Board of Commissioners as the project unfolded, said that, initially, he wasn’t sold on the location.

“Now I have to admit I was wrong — it’s the perfect fit,” Moss said. “This building’s beautiful, it looks like something that would be in Charlotte or Raleigh, in my opinion.”

McInnis said it took special legislation — with the help of Sen. Tom McInnis — to arrange the “very unique” partnership between the college, city, county and USDA, which granted a Rural Development loan to help finance the project.

“It’s going to make a difference for years, and decades, to come,” McInnis said. “This will be a space that generations of people will look to for help and support, guidance and direction. But without people, it’s just an empty, hollow, sterile shell. And it’s the faculty, the staff, the students … that are going to make a difference here.

“I believe the future is bright for this city, for this county, for our college and the entire region if we can apply the principles we’ve learned through this project and look for the next big initiative that can change lives and move the needle. We did it here, we can do it again.”