Paul Quinn College, like most nationwide, was forced to shut down its campus to students because of the pandemic. President Michael Sorrell talked with school officials about how they could turn this into an opportunity to grow.

“We said, ‘What can we do if students didn’t come back to campus for 18 months?’” Sorrell recalled.

On Tuesday the college celebrated its first new buildings on campus in 40 years. The nearly $20 million makeover included the Trammell S. Crow Living and Learning Center — a residence hall that will house 135 students — and a wellness center that contains athletic facilities and more.

While other colleges opened campuses up — at least partially — Paul Quinn only offered classes virtually because of the pandemic. The school will go back to in-person learning this fall.

So Paul Quinn opened its doors to the public this week, allowing community members to tour the new amenities — which include a new jogging trail — as the college reintroduces itself. The festivities also included a free on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinic and performances by music groups.

“I haven’t been here in a year because of COVID,” said Camron Powell, 20, a junior at the school. “This is my first time coming back, and it’s actually amazing.”

Powell heard about the plans and projects the college wanted to tackle as a freshman and was excited to see them finished before graduating.

“We’re growing very quickly,” Powell said.

Those driving by the campus can now see a “We Over Me” sign on the new wellness center that highlights the college’s belief that “the needs of a community must always supersede the wants of an individual.”

Paul Quinn will engage more with the community by adding two public schools on campus, Sorrell said. A public charter school — Trinity Environmental Academy — previously operated at the college before it closed.

Now Dallas ISD will open the Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III Global Academy at Paul Quinn in August, focusing on teaching students from sixth through 12th grades. KIPP Oak Cliff Academy, a public charter school, is relocating to the college’s campus with classes beginning at Paul Quinn in January.

“All these things are designed to change the interaction of this campus with this community and beyond,” Sorrell said. “We will never just address the needs of the school, we are part of a larger community.”

Along with added amenities and repaved roads, the school will demolish its previous, aging dormitory.

Tayler Henley graduated from Paul Quinn in 2012 and lived on campus for about three years.

Henley said seeing the changes the college has gone through firsthand since she lived in Lucy Hughes Residence Hall, which will soon be demolished, propels the work she does today.

After working in the insurance field after college, Henley decided to return to campus in 2019 to “take care of students the way that I was taken care of” as the school’s enrollment management officer.

“Our country and our world have been going through this global pandemic, and to watch something new becoming of this campus has literally been amazing to watch,” Henley said.

Touring the new facilities left Andrea Maldonado, a sophomore at Paul Quinn, in shock after being away from campus for about 15 months.

“It makes me so proud,” Maldonado, 20, said. “I’m so excited to see what’s to come.”

Because she had previously lived at Lucy Hughes, she felt sad that the building that will “always have a special place in my heart” is being destroyed. But she knows that as the school evolves, buildings need to be updated as well.

The school raised about $7 million in donations and pledges and the rest through new-market tax credits, a development tool created by the federal government that helps fund projects in traditionally economically challenged communities.

Mark Proctor, the president of Paul Quinn’s National Alumni Association, said that by tackling construction projects, school officials could not have taken advantage of the time students were away from campus any better.

He added that the projects are the perfect way to welcome the college’s 150th anniversary next year.

“We’re very sure that it brings a great sense of pride and accomplishment for the school, a great sense of excitement for students,” said Proctor, who graduated in 2002. “It’s a celebration for this community.”

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