WEST JORDAN -- Marking a 50-year presence in Utah's system of higher education, Salt Lake Community College broke ground for its new Jordan Campus Wednesday morning.

The 114-acre campus at 9200 S. 3400 West is the community college's third in Salt Lake County, needed to house a growing student body of nearly 20,000, rivaling that of the University of Utah."To say we are excited is trite, but we're excited to have a new campus," said SLCC President Frank W. Budd.

About 75 local dignitaries, college trustees, officials of the Utah System of Higher Education and student government leaders huddled in a tent pitched in a barren field for the ceremony.

"I'm not sure how much we appreciate higher education in this state," said Charlie Johnson, chairman of the Utah Board of Regents. He praised the role of community colleges in Utah's economic development and education.

"A lot of institutions don't want to be what they are, but at Salt Lake Community College, they've found what they want to be."

SLCC's growth is about 4 percent annually, Budd said. The new campus is expected to eventually house 15,000 students. It will be developed over the next 30 years and eventually seep into South Jordan.

"This new campus will provide a bigger opportunity for more students to come learn," said student Tara Vest, SLCC's student body activities vice president.

"I didn't think we'd get that big, but I'm glad that we have."

Local leaders cheered the new addition to their cities.

"This is the greatest thing to happen in this community," said South Jordan Mayor Dix McMullin. "This will be the center of the educational institutions on the west side of the valley. We'll have to work hard in the Legislature to keep it growing."

The first building of the Jordan Campus will be built in about two years and will be a high-tech classroom building and include parking, roads and a central distribution plant. It will establish a northeast entrance to the campus at 9000 South.

As construction and enrollment builds to 5,000 students, a second entry will be developed from the Bangerter Highway at 9400 South. When the campus is fully developed, a third entrance will be established at 3400 West and 9800 South.

"Today we celebrate . . . the creation of a new environment designed and dedicated to learning," said Bonnie Jean Beesley, chairwoman of SLCC's Board of Trustees. I pay tribute to President Budd and those he works with for their foresight, perseverance and dedication. He has instilled a sense of identity and mission for Salt Lake Community College."

In 50 years, the old Salt Lake Area Vocational School, beginning on a shoestring budget against the wishes of then Gov. J. Bracken Lee, developed into Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute through the 1960s, expanded into Utah Technical College and finally became Salt Lake Community College in 1987.

The college has expanded its role in the community and added to its enrollment. In 1948-49, its student body was 1,387. Just under 5,000 students were served by the new Redwood campus in 1967, one year after the school's operating budget exceeded $1 million for the first time. That budget now is more than $58 million.

Today, students are enrolled in more than 80 programs from marketing to welding. SLCC's South City Campus serves about 6,000 students with the recent remodeling that added 20 new classrooms and labs.

The bulk of the college's students attend classes at SLCC's Redwood Campus.

The college has more than 800 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees.