Ozarka to break ground

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Ash Flat campus of Ozarka College will be expanding soon to accommodate the growth of the student population and the nursing program.

"We need to provide more classroom space due to the growth at Ash Flat," said Dr. Dusty Johnston, president of Ozarka College.

There are 325 students enrolled in the fall semester at the local campus putting the three-year-old campus at capacity.

The expansion of the Ash Flat campus is something the board of directors has been discussing for a year now.

"The opportunity came a year ago in November when there was the passing of the statewide college savings bonds in last year's election," Johnston said.

The approval gave the college money for new construction from the state.

"We were looking at expanding technical programs at both Ash Flat and Mountain View," he said, adding that such programs allow students to get their degree in a short period of time and enter the workforce immediately after graduation.

To expand the LPN program at Ash Flat only made sense due to the interest in the program and the current nursing shortage.

This semester there are 82 LPN students and 10 RN students between the three campuses, Johnston said. Ash Flat currently has 20 students enrolled in the LPN program. The fall semester was the first time the program was offered off the Melbourne campus.

"We went ahead and began the program this fall (at Ash Flat),"?he said.

The program takes just 11 months to complete. This first class will have to get by in the current Ash Flat building. The next class will have an all new facility.

The building will be used primarily for the nursing program and will include a nursing lab, a nursing classroom and a study center. It will also include two additional classrooms for general use, additional office space for faculty and a student center with a cyber cafe, said Kim Whitten, public relations specialist with Ozarka.

"It's going to be really, really nice," she said.

Bids were opened for the 9,200-square-foot building Oct. 30. The $1.292 million contract was awarded to Tate General Contractors of Jonesboro. Construction is estimated to take nine months, Johnston said. The architect is Rico Harris of Harris Architecture in Hot Springs.

Crews have already started staking off the property. The new building will be located behind and to the right of the current building, Whitten said. A sidewalk will link the two buildings together.

"They had kind of left that open because that was going to be the second phase of our construction," Whitten said. "Now, we're in that second phase."

The college is located on a 30-acre tract of land that First National Banking Company and Bob Watson donated to the school in 2002. The original 16,000-square-foot building was opened in spring 2005.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 4 at the building site. It will be followed by the second annual Trees and Tidings holiday open house which will begin at 11 a.m. in the lobby of the college. The college's culinary arts department will provide refreshments.

The public is invited to attend.

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