College’s home of shared values

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 06:15 PM

Community centers come in all shapes and sizes. Historically, churches, schools, even parks have served as places where members of a community could gather to socialize, debate political issues or enjoy culture and entertainment.

In that way, community centers play an important part in creating shared values and mutual understanding.

These virtues were bolstered for the region in 1989 when Vance-Granville Community College opened the $2 million facility that houses its Civic Center.

While serving the college’s needs, the civic center has also become the site for community activities, bringing together many segments of the community to offer the benefits that such a gathering place can provide.

By reaching out to the many facets of the region through its civic center, Vance-Granville expands the definition of education from a teacher-student relationship to a broader view of learning for all. In addition to the students who study at the college, the community is knitted together in the variety of activities and performances that find the civic center an appropriate venue. 

On a given day or evening, the civic center may be the site of a luncheon or trade show, a concert or a celebration.

The largest space, the assembly hall, is adaptable to these different uses. A business expo might require the maximum 9,048 square feet of floor space. A banquet setup with tables and chairs can accommodate 600 people.

For concerts, the stage is rolled out in eight-foot segments, and retractable seating is unfolded from the rear wall, providing seating for more than 1,100.

This flexibility lends itself to a variety of events, from wedding receptions to musical performances, from high school proms to public forums.

Making it work is the team of Tommy Nowell, facilities manager, and Ricky Small, civic center technician.

Nowell is in charge of the college’s rental facilities, including the assembly hall and two seminar rooms, the gazebo and the small auditorium. He also manages lighting and sound for events in the center and elsewhere on the campus.

Groups using the facilities have different needs.

“I try to see if we can come up with what they need,” Nowell said.

If it is something unusual (“like a dry-ice fogger”) he helps the group find a rental unit.

A regular “customer” is the Henderson Community Concert Association. In the concert series, a full orchestra may demand a complex setup. A solo violinist may require simply a microphone and a spotlight. Nowell adapts.

A native of Henderson, Nowell attended Henderson High School for three years in what is now Henderson Middle School and graduated from Vance County High School (now Northern Vance) in 1972. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from East Carolina University before returning to Henderson, where he worked for the city coordinating cultural arts special events. He assumed his present position at Vance-Granville in 1999.

Nowell is married to the former JoEllen Meekins, also a Henderson native. When he’s not at Vance-Granville, Nowell might be found working in a production of the Henderson Rec Players. He has acted, sung and played guitar with the production company over the years.

JoEllen has also performed in numerous productions and directed others. The couple’s two sons, Matt and Tyler, may also be found behind the scenes or on stage. 

In 1990, the civic center was dedicated to one of Henderson’s outstanding residents. John T. Church, chairman of the board for Roses Stores and a member of the N.C. General Assembly, was a charter member of the Vance-Granville Board of Trustees and a prime mover in establishing and expanding the college.

The college has come a long way from its origin in 1969 as Vance County Technical Institute. It has progressed from a short list of courses 40 years ago to today’s comprehensive curriculum that meets the needs both of people honing technical skills and others preparing to enter a four-year college.

Serving as a community center places the college squarely in the technical, social and cultural vortex of the region.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.