Contractor crews had real groundwork underway when officials ceremonially turned shovels Wednesday on Ogeechee Technical College’s sixth major building, the $10 million, almost 35,000-square-foot Workforce Training and Plant Operations Building.
The site for what is expected to be OTC’s last major building for a while is across Joe Kennedy Boulevard behind the original heart of the campus on U.S. Highway 301. International City Builders of Macon is building it on a design by Collins Cooper Carusi Architects of Atlanta. Construction is projected to be complete in time for classes in January 2019.
“The Technical College System of Georgia prides itself on being very agile and responsive to the needs of the industries and businesses across this state, and this project is a great example of that,” said OTC President Lori Durden.
Several years ago managers of area industries – Durden called them industry partners – came to Ogeechee Tech’s leadership with a concern. The industries’ maintenance technicians were starting to age out and retire, and the managers did not see younger workers coming along with the skills to take their place.
“So we went to work to solve that problem with them,” Durden said.
Three labs in the new building will be dedicated to the solution, housing the college’s industrial systems and mechatronics programs, she said.
A mechatronics lab, like a miniature, automated assembly line at tabletop level, was installed in the college’s Natural Resources Building last December. Several industries in Bulloch, Evans and Screven counties and two development authorities gave money to buy the equipment. Then the college launched an Industrial Maintenance Fast-Track course in January.
But the 12-week fast-track course is a continuing education program without college credit. A new Industrial Systems Diploma program, slated to start fall semester 2018, will incorporate industrial maintenance skills, Durden said. It will start in the existing lab and be moved, along with the lab equipment, to the new building when it is completed, officials said.
Plans also call for moving OTC’s electrical labs to the building.
The industrial systems program, like all the other for-credit programs planned for the building, will be tuition-free for students who qualify for the HOPE Career Grant, Durden said. Directed at high-demand careers, this grant provides a higher level of funding than the regular HOPE.
Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Gretchen Corbin noted that five additional programs have recently been made HOPE Career Grant-eligible statewide. She did this while expressing thanks to legislators and Gov. Nathan Deal.
“They continue to champion technical education and have recently announced the addition of five programs to the existing 12 programs within the technical colleges that are HOPE Career Grant-eligible: aviation, automotive, construction, electrical line working, and excitingly for this facility, logistics,” Corbin said.
With the ongoing expansion of Savannah’s port, the college is seeing much more interest in logistics, Durden said. Logistics is the science of supplying what is needed through transportation and storage.
Existing programs slated to use the new building are those leading to the Electrical Systems Technology and Industrial Electrical Technology diplomas, the Basic Electrical Technician, Commercial Wiring, Photovoltaic Systems Technician, Programmable Control Technician and Basic Mechatronics Specialist certificates, and the Logistics Management and Logistics and Supply Chain Management associate degrees.
Additionally, the college’s own central receiving and plant operations support services, now housed in several places around campus, are slated to be moved to the new, permanent building.
The Ogeechee Technical College Foundation bought the land and donated it to the college, Durden noted, thanking foundation supporters.
Corbin, Durden and Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore, who is also Ogeechee Tech’s vice president for economic development, also thanked the area’s legislative delegation for securing funding for the construction.
Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, Rep. Jon Burns, R- Newington, and Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, attended the ceremony. Tankersley noted that Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, was also supportive.
“When I’m in communities and a delegation has worked so hard, it’s really easy to say thank you, but I want to tell you what your legislators did,” Corbin said. “Your legislators saw a need, they saw the opportunity that the foundation had provided and the opportunity to run with it.”
Burns is House majority leader, and Hill chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. But the funding did not breeze through the legislative process, Tankersley indicated in her remarks.
Funding ‘not easy’
“Lobbying for funding even for very worthwhile projects such as the ones that we’ve seen out here is not easy, and there are slippery slopes along the way, and this project hit a slippery slope, but as you would expect of us and we would expect of one another, we all came together and the money was approved,” Tankersley said.
Moore said the value of the building “will ultimately be measured in the opportunities that it brings to our community, our county and the two additional counties that we serve.”
Bulloch County commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson said he remembers when Ogeechee Tech’s first building was built.
“And now ride through the campus and see what we have out here,” Thompson said. “But the main thing is the job opportunities that are now here, will be here, have been here for people who want to work to come in and further their lives and be able to support their families.”
Set for a while
This will probably be the college’s last big building for some years to come, Durden acknowledged after the ceremony.
“After this building we’ll be in excellent shape to take care of our existing enrollment,” she said. “We’re pretty much landlocked, to be honest. We don’t have much empty land left on this campus.”
That, Durden said, would be an issue for the college’s next president, and she has no plans to leave the job anytime soon.
“We’re good for a while,” she said. “You never want to stop growing and changing, you never want to stop being innovative and improving your campus and the experience for your students, of course.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.