Computer Learning Centers Inc., a chain of 27 trade schools that train students for entry-level jobs in the technology industry, will be moving its headquarters from Fairfax County to Prince William County.

The company, which has been plagued by recent lawsuits and investigations, also will move its Battlefield Business Park campus to the new headquarters on Balls Ford Road, it announced in late July.

Computer Learning Centers is moving to Prince William both to lower costs and have more room to grow, said Chief Financial Officer Charles Cosgrove.

"It gives us the opportunity to consolidate the Manassas school and the corporate headquarters into one building," Cosgrove said.

Computer Learning Centers, which had been considered one of the area's fastest growth technology companies, had to give about $650,000 in refunds this year to students at is Laurel, Md., campus who couldn't pass entrance exams, had not graduated from high school or lacked other qualifications after an investigation by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

The company also was sued by the Illinois attorney general in 1998 for allegedly defrauding students. Computer Learning Centers' shares plunged 65 percent after the Illinois action, leading to more legal trouble for the company, including suits filed on behalf of stockholders who lost money.

The company reported a loss of $500,000 for fiscal 1999.

Computer Learning Centers won't be constructing new buildings for its Prince William headquarters. Instead, it will move in December or January into a 60,000-square-foot building that was to be the first-of-its-kind BMX bike and entertainment center. Washington Bike Center, of Fairfax, with retail stores throughout the region, sold its site and partially constructed building to Computer Learning Centers in March for $2.35 million.

"There was that shell there, and that obviously factored into the developers' decision," Cosgrove said of the company's choice for a new location.

The already developed land probably will make the move faster--and less expensive, he said.

Construction at the Balls Ford Road site, in western Prince William, began in late spring 1997. The site was to be a $6 million bicycle complex that would have included tracks and ramps, miniature golf and a retail store. It was to be one of the first facilities to combine those attractions in one location.

John Chang, Washington Bike Center president, said he can't comment on the recent sale or the history of the abandoned project because his company is in the midst of litigation against the finance firm that was supposed to fund the original project.

Although the company had to sell its site, "we are definitely hoping for another," Chang said.

Computer Learning Centers will be moving about 60 headquarters employees to Manassas, along with 60 to 75 employees from the school. The new headquarters will have 600 to 700 students. About 600 students attend the Manassas school now.

"The school out there has done very well, and as the county continues to grow, there will be more opportunities for the school," Cosgrove said. "As far as the corporate organization goes . . . [being in Prince William] allows us to be in a very fast-growing area."

He said the 60,000-square-foot building can expand to 90,000 to 100,000 square feet.

"It's a very visible location," said Kathy Bentz, county spokeswoman. "It will be good to have something there to showcase Prince William County."

CAPTION: "The school out there has done very well, and as the county continues to grow, there will be more opportunities for the school. As far as the corporate organization goes . . . [being in Prince William] allows us to be in a very fast-growing area."-- Charles Cosgrove, chief financial officer, Computer Learning Centers

CAPTION: Students at Computer Learning Centers in Manassas get hands-on experience in computer repair in the electronics laboratory. About 600 students attend the Manassas school.