CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — American Public University is celebrating its 10th anniversary here by adding its most energy-efficient building yet to dot the city’s landscape — an $18 million financial center next to the four-story, $12 million Academic Center that opened two years ago at 330 N. George St.
Next to the building is a 170-space parking lot covered with what APU officials said is, at 1,660 panels, “the largest solar array in West Virginia.”
When completed this year, the new 98,000-square-foot Financial Center, which is being built over the bones of the former Dixie Narco manufacturing plant, will bring to 20 the number of buildings standing on APU’s downtown footprint.
The university owns 12 of the buildings and leases the rest, said Harry Wilkins, the school’s chief financial officer.
Mike Gunia, APU facilities director, said the university has renovated 17 downtown homes and structures into modern office buildings.
APU moved to Charles Town in 2002 from Manassas, Va., with 11 employees, Wilkins said.
Today, 560 full-time support employees, mostly in white-collar, online and administrative jobs, work in Charles Town. They schedule classes, hire teachers, handle financial aid, grade work and complete student transcripts, collect tuition, handle payroll, and take care of insurance and property taxes among other duties.
“They do all the administrative work that any college does,” Wilkins said.
According to earlier remarks by American Public University President Wallace Boston, the fully online university employs 450 full-time faculty members and 1,400 adjuncts worldwide. It has nearly 120,000 students worldwide taking online courses in 87 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
At first glance, the parking lot looks like any other except for the canopies over each space.
A second look reveals something far different. Each canopy is covered with solar panels, producing enough electricity to light 30 average-sized homes a year, Boston has said.
The lot has 15 electric-car charging stations, some for public use, said John Hough, vice president of community college relations and outreach.
The Academic Center next door has 99 solar panels on its roof, Hough said. “We believe in sustainability, even in our older buildings,” he said.
Boston said APU is taking “a small step towards independence from nonrenewable energy sources and a sustainable future for America.”
While exact numbers were not immediately available during an interview Friday, Wilkins said 39 percent of every dollar APU earns “goes to some government agency in taxes, federal, state and local.”
A for-profit university, APU pays county, school and city taxes.
Joe Cosentini, city manager for Charles Town, said the university has greatly improved the city’s property tax base.
“They’ve taken a lot of dilapidated properties and renovated them,” he said. “They’re improving the look of Charles Town.”
APU employees frequent downtown restaurants and shop in local stores, he said.
The university sponsors civic events and its employees volunteer for local projects, Cosentini said.
“They’ve been great neighbors,” he said. “We’re thrilled to have them here.”