Ozarka College is preparing the ground to build a new college campus in Ash Flat to serve the growing number of students from Sharp County.
"We're really moving fast and it's so exciting after the time that we have had," said Karla Rush, director for business outreach. "It's nice after all the planning to see the work actually begin on the site."
The college has hired Noacon Inc. from Fairfield Bay to construct a 16,000-square-foot building on a 30-acre piece of land near the Ash Flat Ball Park on College Drive. The bid was for $1.4 million, development officer Jim Fenton said.
The land was donated to the college in March 2002 by First National Banking Company and Bob Watson. After designing plans for the new building and collecting funding for the facility, work is beginning. A formal groundbreaking ceremony was to be held April 6 at the site.
The new building will serve as the new campus for the Ash Flat facility which has been holding classes at Remington Plaza for the past few years.The new building will include six classrooms, a science lab, additional office space, a large conference room, a bookstore and a 150-seat lecture hall, Fenton said.
"It will give us a considerable amount of additional space," Rush said. "We're going to upgrade the computer lab and have another compressed video classroom for distance learning."
The college received $250,000 from the state Legislature to begin construction.
A few months later, the city of Ash Flat passed a 3/8-cent sales tax in August 2002 to help pay for the construction and ongoing maintenance of the new building.
Fenton said 1/4 of the tax will be used to pay off the construction bonds and 1/8 will be used for maintenance and operations. The tax generates approximately $120,000 a year.
"It was passed overwhelmingly to help provide the income for the college to build this new building," Ash Flat Mayor Brien Nix Hall said. "Our city could provide not only a good tax base, but an overwhelming amount of support. Taxes haven't always passed in the city, but this is something the residents and the business owners were behind and felt strongly about."
Of the 950 students who attend classes at one of the three Ozarka campuses -- Melbourne, Mountain View and Ash Flat -- approximately 200 students are enrolled at the Ash Flat campus, Rush said.
The first year the Ash Flat campus was in operation the campus was almost filled to capacity with students wanting to obtain a higher education, Fenton said.
"If you do some checking on population factors, you'll find the Ash Flat, Highland, Cherokee Village and Hardy area has the biggest population of the college's students," Fenton said. "It's a growing area and this will help meet the needs of the students. The younger population and their parents are realizing students need a college education."
Fenton said he expects the enrollment at the Ash Flat campus to grow substantially in the next few years.
The college opened its Ash Flat location in fall of 2001.
Crews are already clearing the land and the building is expected to be completed by January 2005. The building is expected to be in use by early spring, Fenton said.