Montreat College announces expansion in Black Mountain

College will incorporate a two-campus system to facilitate growth

Fred McCormick

When Montreat College president Dr. Paul Maurer spoke on June 13 it was with pride in regards to the recent turnaround of the school. But it was the ambitious direction of Montreat's future that echoed the loudest.

The growth of Montreat College has already had an impact on the Owen High School track program, with the team using Montreat's new athletic facility to practice in the summer.
The growth of Montreat College has already had an impact on the Owen High School track program, with the team using Montreat's new athletic facility to practice in the summer.
Owen High School's track team completes their workout  on the Black Mountain campus of Montreat College, where a $2 million athletic complex was built in 2015.

Maurer announced to the Black Mountain Board of Aldermen his school's long-term plan to employ a two-campus system that will involve Montreat College "principally migrating to Black Mountain" in the the years to come.

Montreat's board of trustees voted in January to proceed with a master plan aimed at growth, which will require the use of 89-acre campus to accommodate an additional 1,200 - 1,500 students.

"We will pursue master planning with the idea that we will be a two-campus institution," Maurer told the board. "The Montreat campus is fine, but it's small and confining and we cannot grow there to the size that we need to be in order to be a strong, healthy liberal arts college."

Currently, the Montreat campus has around 420 beds.

With the planning process just underway the details regarding how the college will support the continued growth, which has been a trend since a proposed merger with Georgia-based Point University fell through in 2014, have yet to be worked out. Maurer's arrival came just a few months later on the heels of a donation that altered the school's future.

"We had an anonymous donor who came forward and pledged a donation of $6 million to the college..." he said. "The pledge has grown since then to a little under $9 million and between March 1 of 2014 and June 30 of 2016, (the donors) will have given $9 million to Montreat College. That gift has been absolutely catalytic to the institution."

Maurer and his team developed a brand promise which states that "Montreat College is an independent, Christ-centered, liberal arts institution that educates students through intellectual inquiry, spiritual formation and preparation for calling and career."

The marketing of that promise was one of the factors that led to the school's largest freshman class in 30 years last fall. And a $2 million athletic facility, completed in the fall of 2015, has served as the physical manifestation of the college's resurgence.

"We were able to host, for the first time, a conference championship," Maurer said. "The women's lacrosse championship came to town and we are hoping to host the men's and women's conference track and field championships a year from now."

The school's honors program, which was established four years ago, graduated its first class in May.

"One of those graduates was accepted into Yale University and chose Montreat College instead," Maurer said. "She spent four years with us and had a tremendous experience at Montreat."

Black Mountain town manager Matt Settlemyer said he was "excited to see that Montreat is poised for that kind of expansion."

"Having a viable liberal arts college within town limits is something that we would work hard to accommodate," he said. "The logistics and the infrastructure needs are things that we would be willing to partner up to accomplish because of the benefit to this area."

The move by Montreat College will also help diversify the town's economy, according to Settlemyer.

"With the types of folks that are drawn to Black Mountain, having a college here will be as influential as anything we've done in a long time," he said.

At least one group in the Swannanoa Valley has already started reaping the benefits of Montreat's recent growth. Joe Hyder, who has coached cross country as well as track and field at Owen High School for 30 years, helped create the cross country course on Montreat's Black Mountain campus. He said that Montreat has been gracious in allowing the high school's running teams to practice at the new athletic facility.

"It's really been great that they have let us use this track," he said. "With ours at Owen not in the best shape and scheduled to be replaced next year, (the team) will get the opportunity to do a lot more work on the track this summer than we have in recent years."