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A 'natural' groundbreaking
New buildings prep Ogeechee Tech for renewed growth
Dignitaries from Statesboro and across Georgia came to Ogeechee Technical College to help the school break ground on its Natural Resources Building. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction, which appears in Wednesday's print edition.In an article about the groundbreaking of the Natural Resources Building at Ogeechee Technical College that appeared in the Business Tuesday section, the name of the general contractor was incorrect because of a reporter's error. Pope Construction Company is the general contractor. Also, Ogeechee Tech is in the process of seeking regional accreditation. Because of a reporter's error, the type of accreditation OTC is seeking was stated incorrectly. The Statesboro Herald regrets the errors.       

When completed, the $12.6 million Natural Resources Building will be the second largest of five major classroom buildings on Ogeechee Technical College's main campus. Along with the new Health Science Building, already in use, the Natural Resources Building prepares the campus for what OTC officials envision as a new growth phase.
        "The new structure that will be built here will be much more than just brick and mortar," OTC President Dr. Dawn Cartee said. "It will be the catalyst for expanded knowledge, enhanced employability, greater self-sufficiency and a better quality of life, not only for our graduates but for their families and the citizens of this state who will benefit by the services they will provide."
        Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, and Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, joined Cartee and local officials Nov. 14 for the shovel-turning ceremony for the Natural Resources Building. This was combined with a belated ribbon cutting for the $6.1 million Health Science Building-North, which opened for classes in January.
        Architects with James W. Buckley and Associates have drawn plans for the Natural Resources Building, and OTC faculty members are still being consulted about interior details. Pope Construction Company, based in Statesboro, is general contractor, and the building is projected to be finished summer 2015 for use beginning that fall.
        The latest construction could be seen as running counter to a recent trend in overall enrollment. Ogeechee Tech's enrollment reached its peak thus far, more than 4,000 students, in 2010. Then, as at other TCSG colleges, enrollment dropped with the tightening of HOPE Grant eligibility and the change from the quarter system to semesters in 2011.
        But enrollment has stabilized, essentially unchanged from 3,220 students two years ago to 3,223 last year, according to OTC Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Ryan Foley. These are unduplicated counts of all students during the entire year, but enrollment for 2013-14 is running ahead of the same point last year, he said.

Renewed growth
        "By the time that building comes on line, I'm hopeful that we will have 5,000 students in a year," Foley said. "We have a pretty impressive plan for growth for the next couple of years, so that definitely could come at a good time."
        Ogeechee Tech officials are planning to add some completely new programs. They also hope the college will receive an additional type of regional accreditation in 2014.
        Meanwhile, the college is building on existing strengths. Of Ogeechee Tech's four general program areas, Health Science now has the largest enrollment and most graduates each year. Natural Resources programs rank third in total enrollment, but now have the second largest number of graduates, having pulled ahead of Business/Computers in that regard, said OTC Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Charlene Lamar.
        By the time the Natural Resources building is ready, enrollments in the programs it will house is expected to grow to about 850 students, an increase of about 50 percent from the current level, Lamar said.
        At two stories, Natural Resources will be the school's first classroom building with more than a single floor. It will also be the first on the main campus built outside the perimeter defined by Joseph E. Kennedy Boulevard. The new structure will stand on a 32-acre tract provided to the college by the Development Authority of Bulloch County.
        But it will be just across the street. The color pallet, landscaping, outdoor furniture, even lighting fixtures are being selected to ensure that the new building fits with the rest of the campus, said OTC Vice President for Technology and Institutional Support Jeff Davis.
        "We have a campus master plan that we'll use so that the two sides of the road blend together," he said. "It won't be as though we're creating two separate campuses."
        The Natural Resources building be will include a high-ceilinged, 4,500 square-foot multipurpose room, called a training room, which can be subdivided and used for meetings of various sizes. Rentable through the OTC Economic Development Office for use by other organizations, it will be the largest space of its kind on campus.
        At roughly 60,000 square feet, Natural Resources will rank behind the 75,000 square-foot Joe Kennedy Building in size, but ahead of the 49,000 square-foot Occupational Studies Building, the 34,000 square-foot Health Science-South and 26,000 square-foot Health-Science-North.

Programs on the move
        Instructional programs slated to move into the Natural Resources Building include agribusiness; fish and wildlife management; forensic science; criminal justice; adult education; and continuing education. It will also be the Economic Development Office's new home.
        Health Science-North now houses the radiologic technology, sonography, echocardiography, radiology-PACS, and opticianry programs, plus a biology lab and tiered demonstration hall. Thanks to the added space, one mobile unit where classes previously met is now used for storage.
        But two Natural Resources programs still occupy classrooms in a trailer behind the UPS building. Heather Lee is currently sole instructor of Ogeechee Tech's fish and wildlife management courses. Bill Worthington is the only instructor for the OTC agribusiness program, the only technical-college agribusiness program in Georgia.
        Students in both programs do a large portion of their work in the field. Global Information System technology using satellite data has been incorporated into both subjects, from wildfire and threatened species monitoring in Lee's area of expertise to precision farming techniques and equipment installation and maintenance in Worthington's.
        The agribusiness program has one John Deere tractor, one smaller Kubota tractor and a Kubota RTV utility vehicle equipped for field experience with this technology.
        With the new building, the two programs will share a computer lab with simulator programs for students starting to learn about the satellite navigation technology.
        "We're hoping for 30 computer stations where we can do a lot of things sitting in the lab where everybody can do it at once instead of having to have a bunch of expensive tractors for people to take turns getting on the tractors, so we're looking very much forward to that," Worthington said.
        Another advantage of the permanent building will be greater visibility, in more attractive surroundings, for these programs. Lee said they have been hard to find sometimes "back here in the woods in the trailers."
        "The ability to recruit and educate students in these programs will be enhanced by the state-of-the-art facility that will be constructed on this site," Cartee said at the groundbreaking.

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