Hampden-Sydney plans major expansion for shooting facility

Published 12:54 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Hampden-Sydney College needs to compete. That was the message delivered Tuesday, May 21 as college staff presented their latest proposal to the Prince Edward County Planning Commission. 

Earlier this month, speaking to Prince Edward supervisors, Hampden-Sydney President Larry Stimpert mentioned a need to expand the shooting facility, operated at 7128 Farmville Road, on the old Slate Hill Plantation property. That argument was expanded on Tuesday, as staff explained that in order to recruit students, the school needs to have facilities on par with some of the other NCAA Division III operations. 

And so, school officials want to expand the Slate Hill property, to make it easier to hold larger shooting competitions there, as well as other outdoor educational programs like archery, biking, cross country running and hiking. There will also be a nature trail built on the property and a lodge, set up as a compliment to the shooting ranges. It would have two laser operated practicing facilities inside, where a projector puts a target across the wall. While the property stands at 251 acres, the shooting component will take up 40. 

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“Quite frankly, our facility is way below what other colleges are doing across the country,” said Andy Shield. Representing Hampden-Sydney in the presentation, Shield explained that he’s worked with the project since it got started. “If Hampden-Sydney is not ahead of the game, we’re playing catch-up. This brings us more in line with other ranges.” 

Now there are already shooting ranges on the property, as evidenced by the fact Hampden-Sydney’s shooting team has used them for the last two years. Part of the problem is the size of the range, which limits to roughly 10 people. That makes it hard to host competitions, as you’re talking about multiple teams, each with up to 10 people of their own. 

More about the Hampden-Sydney property 

It’s a program drawing interest at the school. According to Hampden-Sydney’s presentation Tuesday, for the current season, which started in the fall of 2023, there were 30 people who tried out for 12 spots on the squad. Also, shooting events organized in connection with Alumni Weekends, Parents Weekend and Homecoming have proven to be highly popular, school officials say. 

It’s one of several projects in the works at Hampden-Sydney. Speaking to Prince Edward County supervisors during their Tuesday, May 14 meeting, Stimpert said the college was in one of its biggest construction phases in years, with $170 million in completed, underway or planned projects for the campus. And the shooting facility and lodge falls right in as part of that. 

“Hampden-Sydney is pursuing ambitious plans with the aims of having the College join the ranks of the country’s finest liberal arts colleges and universities, being well known and highly regarded nationally,” reads part of the presentation shown to the planning board May 21. 

According to Ken Copeland, Hampden-Sydney’s Vice President for Business Affairs, the shooting facility could be used in a number of ways. He asked county officials not to restrict when or how many times the property could be used. 

“We have our alumni reunions coming up in June,” Copeland told the planning commission. “That’s an occasion where you might see some subset of the alums wanting to go out there and shoot. If you restrict it to just the academic year, the summertime use we might see as a recruiting or fundraising opportunity, that might pinch us a bit.” 

Instead, Copeland and Shield laid out a somewhat broad schedule. Shooting competitions would be held between 2 to 5 times a semester there, with alumni events expected 10 times a year. There would also be ongoing practices each week, with the larger property open for archeology and historical science studies. The Slate Hill Plantation was originally the home of Nathaniel Venable, one of Hampden-Sydney’s founders. 

Breaking down the timeline 

As it stands, if approved, this project would be done in two phases. Phase one would involve expanding the shooting ranges. Once that’s finished, step two would involve building the lodge. And Prince Edward County Planner Robert Love says in many ways, this would be just like assembling a new educational building. There will have to be building permits applied for, a zoning permit requested. If approved and construction begins, the county staff would be out during that portion, making sure everything is done up to code. 

To date, there haven’t been any problems with the shooting facility. There were no complaints over the last two years, about noise volume or anything else. In fact, Love said because of where it’s located, the shooting competitions are pretty muffled. 

“We observed a shooting (this fiscal year), with about 10 to 15 students,” Love said. “Everywhere we went, every decibel level we took was at or below (the sound of a person talking). Transfer trucks going by were louder.” 

By a unanimous vote, the planning commission recommended approving the project. Now it goes before the Board of Supervisors, which will take place during the group’s June 11 meeting. Afterwards, it will also go to the Hampden-Sydney board of trustees for a vote. If everyone approves the concept, construction could start in September.