Interim Baton Rouge Community College Chancellor Jim Horton has only been on the job one week and he’s already discussing expansion.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to expand our reach,” Horton said Tuesday.

Horton said BRCC should “reach out to the east.”

The growing community college hosted a public meet-and-greet Tuesday for Horton, complete with a “Welcome Dr. Horton to BRCC” cake.

By the east, Horton is referring to the 200 acres of Smiley Heights property northeast of BRCC, which is on Florida Boulevard, in a neighborhood near Greenwell Springs Road and roughly between North Ardenwood Drive and North Lobdell Boulevard.

BRCC is expecting to grow to about 8,700 students this fall, Horton said, and the college is landlocked in its existing location.

The plan is to build an automotive training “center of excellence” that would fill an important workforce development need for southern Louisiana, said Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

New centers of excellence for community and technical colleges were authorized through legislation last year.

May said many automotive dealerships must send their employees to Houston for training because the right programs are not available within the state.

“I’m pretty pumped about it,” May said. “Two hundred acres in the middle of town really is a rare find.”

The first step is building a 60,000-square-foot facility, while leaving additional space for BRCC to grow. But planning is ongoing and no timetable is set, May said.

Much of the acreage also is wetlands.

The project is going through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, a nonprofit group that takes vacant land and turns it into marketable property. The plan also includes an $18 million East Baton Rouge Parish School Board charter school, on about 10 acres, opening with a student body of about 400 students but with room for 1,000 and focusing on workforce development in digital media and culinary arts, among other areas.

Horton retired at the end of June as the president of Yavapai College in northern Arizona. He vowed not to seek the job beyond the interim. He replaced Myrtle Dorsey, who left BRCC last week to become the new chancellor of St. Louis Community College.

May said Horton offers “new opportunities for change and transition.” The plan is to hire a permanent chancellor in early 2012 once a national search is conducted, May said, although Horton could stay longer if the search takes longer than anticipated.

Horton said he is impressed with the people, the facilities and the academic programs at BRCC.

“Clearly, there’s a lot more to be done and there’s a lot more expansion opportunities,” Horton said.

Horton said he will be outgoing and work hard on getting to know the community. Horton also said he will emphasize BRCC fundraising within the business community.

“I am not one to sit in my office very much,” Horton said.

“It’s going to be a real steep learning curve, but I know how to do this,” he said.

State Rep. Michael Jackson, D-Baton Rouge, said Horton gives BRCC the chance to bring stability and growth. “It’s a very nice atmosphere for students, and we’ve got to keep it growing,” Jackson said.

Yavapai College is comparable to BRCC as a community college with an overall enrollment of about 9,000 students. Horton took over as president there in 2005.

Prior to Yavapai, Horton was a vice chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates for more than three years.

But before traveling overseas, he was the chancellor of the San Jacinto College District in suburban Houston.

May called Horton a national and international expert in community colleges.