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Posted August 8, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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JMU to open distance learning center

By James Heffernan -- jheffernan@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- James Madison University will open a distance learning center inside the Royal Phoenix administration building in the coming months, the local Economic Development Authority announced this week.

JMU will use about 6,800 square feet formerly occupied by Wayside Theatre for classrooms and a lecture hall. The university has agreed to furnish the teleconferencing equipment while the EDA will supply the space.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said the group has been in discussions with JMU for about a year. Town Manager J. Michael Graham, a JMU alumnus, first brought representatives of the university to Front Royal for an overview of the area.

"They were looking for a facility where students could learn using state-of-the-art equipment, so we decided to show them the old theater space," McDonald said. "That's how this all got started."

JMU faculty will provide instruction from the Harrisonburg campus, creating "a totally interactive classroom experience," Carol Fleming, the school's director of outreach and engagement, says in a press release.

The university will also offer some degree-completion programs in conjunction with Lord Fairfax Community College, the release says.

The study programs have not yet been finalized, it says, but the EDA's fiscal 2009 report mentions plans for a business school on site.

Patty Wines, chairwoman of the EDA, said the learning center will help "broaden horizons for this community by providing access to four-year degreed programs for our citizens, locally and regionally, and by fostering a higher-educational presence in Front Royal and Warren County."

"It's a great day for us," she said.

Having a university presence will also go a long way toward luring future projects to the area, including research, development and technology labs as well as business incubators, McDonald said.

The EDA has been aggressively marketing available space at both the Royal Phoenix administration building and the Happy Creek Technology Park.

McDonald said development of the 160-acre business park -- part of the larger Royal Phoenix Redevelopment Project slated for the former Avtex Superfund site -- is still at least a year away. Plans for the recreation/conservancy portion of the property, including soccer fields, a skateboard park, river access and hiking trails, cannot take shape until the Environmental Protection Agency officially releases the land to the EDA for re-use.

The EDA has submitted a proposed mixed-use rezoning ordinance for the site to the town Planning Commission, and is awaiting approval.

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