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College expansion

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ozarka breaks ground for new building

"It's a very exciting time for Ozarka College," said Ozarka College President Dusty R. Johnston at the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the college's Ash Flat campus Dec. 4.

The Ash Flat campus is expanding to accommodate the growth of the student population and the nursing program.

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.

"The ground has been broken, and we're moving fast and strong ahead," Johnston said. "It's absolutely going to be a wonderful addition to this campus."

Johnston said the campus is being expanded for two reasons: additional money from the state for construction and the vision of the Ozarka College Board of Trustees.

Last November voters passed a college savings bond in the general election. The vote allowed the state to refinance higher education bonds giving more money to college's in the state for construction and renovation. Ozarka's portion was $1.1 million. The vote passed in Sharp, Fulton, Izard and Stone counties by more than a 60-percent margin, Johnston said.

"We needed to meet the growing students needs," he said.

Ozarka, based in Melbourne, has been interested in expanding the technical programs at both the Ash Flat and Mountain View campuses. Such programs allow students to earn their degree in a short period of time and enter the workforce immediately after graduation.

There is a great number of jobs in the healthcare field, Johnston said. To meet the need for employees and give local residents an opportunity to obtain these jobs, the nursing program was expanded to offer courses at the local campus.

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.

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.

"It's another chapter in our history of Ozarka College here in Ash Flat," said Marty Sellars president of First National Banking Company and former chairman of Ozarka Foundation Board of Directors, a non-profit fundraising arm of the school.

In 2000, Ash Flat passed a sales tax to fund the cost of construction for a permanent campus in Ash Flat. The Ash Flat branch of Ozarka 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. The $100,000 science lab was collected from the community by the Foundation board. It will also be used to raise the expected $100,000 to $150,000 it will take to furnish the new building once construction is complete.

There are currently 325 students enrolled in the fall semester at the local campus putting the three-year-old campus at capacity. The new building, although used primarily for the nursing program, will also help with current space issues.

The building 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. It will be located behind and to the right of the current building. A sidewalk will link the two buildings together.

Ash Flat Mayor Danny Traw had few words to say, but it didn't take many for him to express his feelings.

"It's a great day here in Ash Flat," he said. "Ash Flat is here to support and help any way we possibly can. We're just really proud to have it (the college) here in Ash Flat."

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