A ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for a new $18 million finance center brings to $47 million the amount of money that American Public University System has invested in Charles Town and Ranson, W.Va., since it moved to Jefferson County in 2002.
The 105,000-square-foot, four-story structure at 393 N. Lawrence St. will serve as the online university’s finance office and meeting space.
The new building has a capacity for 400 employees. About half that number will occupy it initially.
About 560 APUS employees work locally, spread out in nearly 20 renovated downtown buildings, half owned and half leased.
APUS consists of American Public University and American Military University.
“It was 10 years ago this month that APUS relocated its headquarters to Charles Town in a small building with 11 employees,” said President Wallace Boston.
American Public University System spokesman Brian Muys said Wednesday that APUS has nearly 270 employees in its Manassas, Va., office, including student services, admissions, advising, transfer credit evaluation, career services and marketing personnel.
“The cities of Charles Town and Ranson met all of our criteria: centrally located in the mid-Atlantic with rich historical charm, beautiful surroundings and an inviting small-town atmosphere where working and living can be enjoyed,” Boston said.
The new finance center meets standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council, Boston said.
“The roof was designed to eliminate heat island effect,” he said. “Many construction materials, including structural steel, studs, drywall, hardware and floorings, are from recycled content. Even the landscaping consists of native and adaptive plants.”
The new complex includes a 170-space parking lot covered with 1,660 solar panels that generate enough electricity to supply 30 average-size homes. The lot also has 15 electric-car charging stations.
“It’s the largest solar array in West Virginia,” Boston said.
The four-story academic center that opened next door in 2010 has 99 solar panels on its roof.
APUS has 1,900 online faculty members, 20 percent of whom work full time. The university has more than 110,000 students worldwide. Their average age is between 28 and 34, said Muys. About 60 percent are active-duty or retired military. The rest are civilians.
The university offers 87 associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, all online, Muys said.
“What’s been done here is unbelievable,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the ceremony’s guest speaker.
“Most of your growth has come through during a very difficult recession,” he told Boston. “You all had a vision here.”
David Hamill and Peggy Smith, mayors of Ranson and Charles Town, respectively, spoke briefly.
Hamill, referring to the line that separates Charles Town from Ranson, which the finance center straddles, said it’s a line that both “divides us and joins us.”
“The nation has the stimulus package. Charles Town has American Public University,” Smith said.