As Lee University develops what is loosely called the South Campus around the old First Baptist Church property, the school is developing an open area bounded by the new communications building and the former sanctuary on Central Avenue.
Trackhoes are knocking down three small houses on Parker Street and a four-unit apartment building on 6th Street. At the same time, dump trucks are hauling in tons of dirt as approximately 7.5 acres of parking lot between 6th Street and the old church sanctuary are reshaped into a space connected to the core of the campus, both visually and physically, through pedestrian walkways.
As the quadrangle space, the First Baptist property and communications building are constructed, Lee University will become part of downtown Cleveland. However, Lee President Dr. Conn said Central Avenue is the campus’ southern boundary.
In the future, as the nursing school grows and develops, he foresees constructing another classroom building somewhere along 6th Street.
Conn recently explained his vision of what he believes is the right size for the private Christian school. He said it is one that can best serve its students. He has never wanted the university to become as big as it could possibly be, but has wanted it to be the right size to best serve students enrolled in Lee.
What’s the right size? He said the right size for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is not necessarily the right size for Lee. What is the right size for Cleveland State Community College?
“My question is what is the right size for Lee? By that, I mean two things: The size that will allow us to serve our students best with this highly specialized residential collegiate experience; and that will make us a harmonious and positive part of the larger community we call home,” Conn said.
Walker, People and Maple streets border the private Christian campus on the east side and North Ocoee Street is to the west. Parker Street is the centerpiece of a cohesive, functional campus between 20th Street to the north and south to Central Avenue.
“Here is what I think our natural boundaries are: Central Avenue to the south; Ocoee Street to the west; 20th Street to the north and to the east; I don’t know what our natural boundary is to the east,” he said. “But, Central Avenue is where we join downtown.”
Conn said the growth curve has flattened considerably, and “we have engineered a soft landing — a way to flatten our growth curve and a way to turn our attention from getting bigger to getting better.”
As construction begins on a communications building on the southernmost edge of the campus at Central Avenue and North Ocoee Street, Conn said while Lee is still adding classrooms, it is not building dormitory rooms.
“What we’re doing is taking roughly the same number of students and serving them better, with better and better facilities, and it’s gradually changing the demographics of our students,” he said. “We are gradually becoming the right size for serving our students better and better, and serving the community better and better.”
Conn said fall enrollment is at 4,922 with 700 online students, which is about right for the university’s model of 4,000 traditional students and about 1,000 nontraditional (online) and continuing education students.
“We believe we cannot push the envelope very fast as far as on-campus students and serve them in the way we’re accustomed to serving them,” he said. “We’re not interested in selling credit hours as if [they were] a commodity. We are interested in selling an experience where students from this area or from outside this area come for a sort of wall-to-wall, life-shaping experience.”
There is a certain size where Lee University can no longer do that, he said.