Posted: Jul. 22, 2018 12:01 am
After sitting dormant for five years, the property that was the former home of McGuire Chevrolet in the heart of downtown Newton has a bright future.
Sussex County Community College plans to convert the 2.5-acre property into the McGuire Campus Technical Education Center with the potential of revitalizing the county seat’s central business district.
Eventually serving as the location for five college technical programs — automotive service, diesel, machine tool, welding and culinary arts — the campus is projected to bring 300 students downtown on a daily basis, a much-needed influx of feet on the street to support local businesses and services.
Beyond that, the involved programs will provide skilled workers for in-demand positions within the county.
Since McGuire closed the doors on its downtown dealership and moved to its new facility a few miles north on Route 206, many have eyed the property and speculated as to what it could become.
Some ideas were well developed and thought out. Others were more along the lines of wishful thinking (a petition drive for a Trader Joe’s comes to mind).
The McGuire property is part of a larger area that the town has designated as in need of redevelopment.
The town itself worked with consultants to devise plans of how the area could be developed, including a hotel, retail shops and public gathering spaces.
Pitched plans are often accompanied by beautiful artist renderings, but beyond being realistic, the plans need to have the people with the resources willing to commit to the development.
That didn’t happen until the college began to look at its needs and negotiate with the property owners.
As the pieces fall into place, activity could begin soon with a goal of having some programs ready to go for the fall semester.
Even before then, the college is planning to work on landscaping, which will have an immediate positive impact on the streetscape.
At a courtesy review of the plan in front of the Newton Planning Board last week, SCCC President Jon Connolly, who earned his master’s in forest science from Yale University and his doctorate in biological science from the University of Maine, pointed out that the best time to plant the planned trees, bushes and grass that will accentuate the property is fall — this fall.
Beyond the immediate use of the existing auto service garage area, future plans include remodeling the front showroom area into a student-run restaurant with teaching kitchens, and further down the road, possibly construction of student housing on the site.
At the same time, Thorlabs, which has expressed support for the programs, particularly for the machine tool technology, is readying to expand its operations on the east edge of the downtown area, which will place Spring Street businesses — and available storefronts — in an enviable middle ground.
In her review, Town Planner Jessica Caldwell said the college’s plan fits well with Newton’s master plan, adding that although the town’s redevelopment plan calls for greater density using more than the existing structures, some greater utilization of the space could be achieved with the adjacent parcels.
Beyond that, Caldwell, along with Town Manager Thomas Russo and many others familiar with the proposed project, lauded the college for its willingness, even proactivity, of working with the town toward the best possible outcome for all parties.
Connolly repeatedly has said the college wishes to partner with the town.
The McGuire Campus is truly a welcome development.