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Ozarka expansion Ozarka expansion

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Frank Williams of Paragould works on windows at the new building being constructed at Ozarka College's Ash Flat campus July 10. Williams is an employee of Co-Ord Glass. Photo/Murphy
Contractors are putting the finishing touches on the new addition to Ozarka College's Ash Flat campus just in time for the fall semester to fire up.

The college officially broke ground on the 9,200-square-foot addition Dec. 4. It is expected to be completed by the end of the month and will be open when classes start in August for the fall semester.

Ozarka College President Dusty R. Johnston said there are three reasons for the expansion at Ash Flat: the continued student growth in Sharp County and the Ash Flat area, demographics of population in the area including that of neighboring communities and requests from students for the college to offer more classes at the campus.

In the fall of 2005 the campus had 223 students enrolled. There were 229 students in 2006 and 303 in 2007, Johnston said.

"We see that trend continuing and those 303 students pretty much maxed out that facility. We think the growth will continue in the future," he said.

Johnston said he contributes the growth to the economy with students wanting to better themselves, the location of the campuses, the college offering quality instruction and the ability for the classes to transfer to other larger colleges and universities.

The current building, which opened in 2005, is roughly 16,000 square feet and offers three general use classrooms, a science lab, a computer lab, a conference room, a bookstore, a work room office, a 146-seat lecture hall and two additional classrooms with interactive video capabilities. This technology allows an instructor to teach a class at one campus while students can participate in the live class through live video feed.

Having the new building at the Ash Flat campus will allow the college to expand the class schedule by offering a larger variety of classes and a higher volume of classes due to the additional space.

"It's going to be nearly doubling our facilities over there," Johnston said.

The new building, which is located behind and to the right of the current building and connected to the current building by a sidewalk, includes three general use classrooms, a learning resource center, four offices, a student center with a cyber cafe, a nursing classroom and a skills lab. The parking lot is also being expanded. Twenty additional parking spots will be located on each side of the building.

The college has expanded the nursing program to not only offer Licensed Practical Nursing instruction at the Melbourne campus but also the Mountain View and Ash Flat campuses. To offer the classes at Ash Flat, additional space for a nursing classroom and skills lab was needed.

Ozarka, based in Melbourne, had been interested in expanding the technical programs at both the Ash Flat and Mountain View campuses for some time. Such programs allow students to earn their degree in a short period of time and enter the workforce immediately after graduation. The licensed practical nursing program takes just 11 months to complete.

The majority of the funding for the new construction was made possible by a statewide election in the fall of 2006, Johnston said. In that election voters passed a college savings bond. The vote allowed the state to refinance higher education bonds giving more money to colleges in the state for construction and renovation. Ozarka's portion was $1.1 million.

The new building costs approximately $1.3 million, Johnston said. The additional $200,000 needed to pay for the building is being taken from other revenue the college has generated.

Bids were opened for the building Oct. 30. The contract was awarded to Tate General Contractors of Jonesboro. The architect is Rico Harris of Harris Architecture in Hot Springs.

Johnston said the community support for the expansion and the college in general has always been excellent.

In 2002, Ash Flat passed a 3/8-cent sales tax to help fund the cost of construction for a permanent campus in Ash Flat. That money is now used primarily for operations, Johnston said. The Ash Flat branch of Ozarka College is located on a 30-acre tract of land on Nix Ridge Road that First National Banking Company and Bob Watson donated to the school in 2002. The original 16,000-square-foot building was completed in spring 2005 and opened in the fall of that year.

Before the campus opened, classes had been held in the Remington Plaza since August 2001.

Ozarka College has continued to grow since it first opened its Melbourne campus in 1975 offering a handful of degree programs. The first class of 43 students graduated in July 1976. Since that time, Ozarka College has changed in many ways.

In 1991, the Arkansas Legislature passed an act transforming Ozarka and other vocational schools into technical colleges. The school changed its name from Ozarka Vocational Technical School to Ozarka Technical College.

In 1999, the school changed its name again to Ozarka College to emphasize the full range of study.

As the programs Ozarka offered were expanded, the need for additional campuses increased.

In 1997 the college opened its Stone County Education Center in Mountain View and later opened a campus in Ash Flat.

Today the school is one of Izard County's largest employers. The school offers associate's degrees in general education, teaching, automotive technology, business technology, general technology, criminal justice leadership, culinary arts, health information management and registered nursing. Other programs include studies in accounting, business computer applications, business management, early childhood development, emergency medical technology, information science technology, automotive service technology, early childhood education, health professions and licensed practical nursing.

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