The Blue River campus of Metropolitan Community College in eastern Independence will soon expand to include an east campus to be built near the existing site on Missouri 78.

The building will be added to an existing facility, which consists of a series of three buildings connected by walkways and one separate facility, MCC officials said during a Monday night presentation in Blue Springs.

The current site of the college will be referred to as the west campus, with the addition being called the east campus.

The improvements are part of a long-term plan presented by MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty, who explained that the original Blue River building, at 20301 E. Missouri 78, opened in 1995. The Independence plans are among the first in a series of improvements, to be implemented throughout the MCC system.

The new building will be constructed on what is now the Precision Driving Center, a college used driving course which currently sits on property to the east of the existing facility. It is currently part of Blue River’s Public Safety Institute that houses the police and fire training programs.

The additions and improvements will allow the college to expand its existing 12 degree and certificate programs, which include the Public Safety Institute, cyber-security, Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning and Occupational Safety and Health Administration business, biology, computer science, criminal justice.

“Just like cars and our bodies, buildings get old,” Beatty said of the original Blue River building during a presentation at the Blue Springs South branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library.

The proposed changes, to be parceled out in the next two to five years, will be paid for using a combination of state funding, school district annexation, general obligation bonds and philanthropic support, officials said.

The chancellor led the discussion, joined by other MCC staff in outlining the changes during what they termed a “road trip” through the college’s service areas, which have included presentations throughout the Kansas City area. The programs had a dual purpose – to inform the public of available services and to inquire how college officials can better assist communities, especially in workforce courses that lead to job readiness, Beatty said during the presentation.

Plans also call for adding some college-level courses at Grain Valley High School, where no such reciprocal agreement currently exists. Course offerings will be non-specific and more general education, she said.

The MCC system specializes in preparing students for workforce readiness through a series of technical programs from auto mechanics to welding. Beatty said the college consistently receives requests from area employers that they have difficulty locating an adequate number of well-trained employees. Beatty said young adults need to realize that this region of the country offers a lot of job possibilities and stability.

“We want to feed the economic engine of the city,” Beatty said, adding, “we want people to stick and stay.”

The campuses are known for specialty classes while also offering general education courses that lead to an associate (or two-year) degree preparing students by providing prerequisite courses so they eventually can seek bachelor’s degrees at four-year institutions. For instance, in addition to the above-mentioned Independence campus specialties, Penn Valley, the college’s downtown area location, offers The Francis Institute, which focuses on early childhood education; Maple Woods, located in Kanas City North, offers vet tech program and, within the next three to four years, is scheduled to add an agricultural institute; a new Business and Technology Center will be situated in a Front Street industrial area; and Longview, located in Lee’s Summit, offers automotive technology and engineering specialties.

Despite the plans, MCC faces hurdles. A stigma about community college education as somewhat less prestigious keeps many students from enrolling. But the reality of the more affordable and well-rounded community-based option needs to be better communicated, Beatty said. For instance, she said many larger employers, including Honeywell, a south Kansas City company that manufactures the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons, consistently reaches out to college system officials, complaining of a lack of ready workers.

The system’s affordability, which comes at a substantially lower rate than that offered at four-year institutions, also benefits those who plan to seek four-year degrees and beyond. There are several ways students can access cheaper costs, including by utilizing reciprocal agreements with area high schools. Students can earn an A+ scholarship by meeting eligibility requirements, including tutoring and mentoring younger students. There also are dual-credit courses in which students can fulfill high school graduation credits while also satisfying college credits that can be applied to a degree program, said Executive Director of District Communications and Marketing Blake Fry, during a telephone interview. These options, he said, reduce the cost of a college education in an era in which many millennial-age adults struggle to pay off college debt while also launching careers, purchasing homes and starting families.

“Community college doesn’t always sell well,” Beatty said during the presentation, describing the challenge for community college officials.

“We have to make workforce readiness and community college sexy,” Beatty said, adding that community colleges sometimes have a reputation as an extension of high school, also seen as a sort of 13th grade. “People don’t always realize what we have to offer.”

Beatty added that patrons need to realize that community colleges are not only a good way to get started on a path toward a bachelor’s degree, but, for others, can prepare students for well-paying, fulfilling, stable jobs.

“It’s OK to be a machinist or welder,” Beatty said.