Liberty University will move its online education operations to the Nationwide Insurance building on Graves Mill Road, President Jerry Falwell announced Wednesday during a meeting with local college presidents and City Council members.

Liberty Online currently sits near campus in the former Sears in River Ridge mall. Falwell said the school felt the mall would do better without Liberty taking up space that could be used for retail.

He added they’ve had conversations about purchasing the Nationwide building before, but had been offered a price higher than what Liberty was willing to pay.

It’s perfect for Liberty’s uses, Falwell said, because it’s already set up to be a call center.

Nationwide announced in February it would close its Lynchburg call center in 2016. Liberty, which has purchased the building, will continue to rent to Nationwide until then, Falwell said.

Wednesday’s meeting was held in Liberty’s Hancock Welcome Center and marked the first time new Sweet Briar College President Phillip Stone joined the quarterly Town & Gown meeting with City Council and area college leaders.

Former President Jo Ellen Parker participated regularly since the meetings began, according to Councilman Randy Nelson, but her replacement James Jones never came in the year he led the school, despite being invited to do so.

Jones announced in March the school planned to close in August, but a rebellion led by alumnae resulted in an agreement to keep the college open, with an infusion of cash by alumnae donors.

Stone, an optimistic voice for the college since his hire July 2, admitted to being overwhelmed in his earliest days in the job, alone at the top with none of the college’s top administrators staying on, by their own choice or his.

He told the story of how, after deciding to set the hours of 7 to 9 p.m. aside to read and answer emails, he discovered more new emails came in that time than the number he was able to clear.

“I really did feel like I was drowning,” he said.

Finally, as the new administrative team came into place, he said, he was able to find the joy in the job.

He spoke of goals to push Sweet Briar’s enrollment: first to 800 students, the maximum that could be housed by current buildings, and eventually to 1,200.

“We know that throughout the history of Sweet Briar we have been erratic in terms of participating in the Lynchburg region and Amherst County,” he said. “We want to be active. We want to be a resource. We want to ask for your help when we need things. So we look forward to an engaged relationship with all the schools and community and city governments and all the agencies, to make sure this community flourishes like we want Sweet Briar to flourish.”

Stone got a warm reception from his friend, Lynchburg College President Kenneth Garren, and others at the meeting, including Lynchburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who suggested the division and the college’s engineering program could collaborate on ideas to get younger women excited about math and sciences.

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Contact Jessie Pounds at (434) 385-5561 or jpounds@newsadvance.com. Find her on Twitter: @JessiePounds.

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