"This facility will make the difference in a lot of people's lives and allow them to continue to be productive here at home and enjoy that unique heritage those great values that we have here in eastern Kentucky that maybe some other parts of the state and nation don't have," said Patton.
The new facility will house specialized laboratories, including facilities for programs in radiography, physical therapy, computer science and information technology. A teaching auditorium, community and economic development suite, instructional television laboratories and staff offices will also be included.
The multi-purpose facility will meet a significant need in an area hit hard by population outmigration, said Dr. Michael McCall, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
"Here, where there is a mass exodus, the value of what keeps people here is an education," he said. "An education allows them to be able to do other things. And this serves the community, getting down to the root of what we believe the problems (behind) people leaving."
The building will be named after the late daughter of late state Rep. Paul Mason, who sponsored legislation funding the new facility in 1998 and the school as a whole.
"Mr. Mason wanted the building to carry his daughter's name as a tribute to her strength of character and steadfastness as she faced the tragedy of AIDS," said SECC President Dr. Bruce Ayers.
Belinda Mason was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987 and died four years later from complications resulting from the disease. She spent the years following her diagnosis advocating AIDS prevention, education, treatment and human rights.
She was one of the founders of the Kentuckiana People with AIDS Coalition in the late 1980s and inspired the state AIDS Act which legislated against discrimination on the basis of HIV status.
In 1989, she became the first person with the disease to be appointed to the National Commission on AIDS.
"As a person who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, she refused to be a wedge between the so-called innocent victims and the rest of those with HIV,'" said Robert Gipe, director of the SECC Appalachian Program, quoting Kate Black, a friend of Mason's.
"It is fitting," continued Gipe in his own words, "that a community college building providing opportunity to thousands of people who might otherwise go without access to higher education be dedicated to the memory of a woman who dedicated her life to the importance of every human life."
Ayers thanked The Whitesburg Education Foundation, a key group behind the establishment of the branch campus in 1993 that has contributed over $1 million for an administration building.
"Keep in mind that this is a community of 1,200 people," he said. "They have since given the building to Southeast and KCTCS and it's appraised at more than $2 million ...
"It's a remarkable story. There just aren't that many communities who have that kind of togetherness and that kind of vision about the importance of education.
One of five SECC campuses, Whitesburg offers programming in several fields and has a student population of more than 450.