Ozarka College to build Student Services Center at Melbourne campus

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"This is exciting for the community. It will serve our students for decades to come," was the assessment of Ozarka College President Dr. Richard Dawe, following a special meeting of the Ozarka Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Melbourne.

The three board members present in the President's Conference Room and three others on a conference call hook-up unanimously approved the sale of $2,858,788 in bonds to finance a Student Services Center facility to be built in the middle of the main campus at Melbourne. The bonds, to be paid back over a 30 year period, had actually been sold earlier in the day at a favorable interest rate of 3.57 percent.

"We hoped for exactly what we got today, except the fees were under five percent this time, and the interest rate was three-quarters percent better than we had hoped for," board member Ben Cooper said excitedly as the short meeting adjourned.

"More to come later," board chairman Dennis Wiles added.

In 2011, a company was hired to draw up a master plan, showing how the main Ozarka College campus will develop in coming years to meet future enrollment and new course studies. The plan shows an impressive entryway at the front of the campus with a quadrangle added in the middle of campus, part of an effort to add more green space, and move parking lots to the perimeter of campus. New campus buildings were also planned, including the Student Services Center, a central place where students will get help from advisors, find tutoring assistance and study areas, along with facilities to eat, relax and socialize.

"Our current student services functions are somewhat spread out, so we're going to bring all of our student services together, right in the center of campus to serve our students more effectively," Dawe explained. "We'll have student areas -- large group, small group and individual study areas -- a new, larger contemporary book store, a cafe, probably a coffee bar for students, and all of the student service offices."

The building will be located in what is now a parking lot area between the Miller Education, Allied Health and Adult Education and Hall Academic buildings. Plans envision a two story building, offering about 20,000 square feet of space, which will be completed in mid-2014.

The company hired to design the building, WDND of Fayetteville, has begun work with a committee of student, faculty, staff and community members to get input on what the building will look like, and how it will be laid out. Its first meeting was held on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

"The committee members are very excited. Employees see the need to centralize student services, and to have a building for student life. It will take this college to the next level," Dawe said.

According to Dawe, Ozarka College has gradually developed from its initial mission as a vocational and technical school to a comprehensive community college. In order for Ozarka to continue to attract students, who have many higher education choices in the area and state, the college needs improved facilities, especially facilities like the Student Services Center.

"We have more of a commuter campus now. We need a more pleasing campus where students will want to stay," Dawe said. "They need a place to study and stay during the day. A place for students to relax and study. A place where they can have one stop shopping for student services, a location to meet others to study or have lunch at the cafe. It will really advance us from the vo-tech model to a more contemporary, comprehensive community college."

In 2012, Ozarka officials opened a similar building at the Mountain View campus, combining student services with areas to study and hang out. An amphitheater has since been completed, for campus and community events.

"The students and community love it," Dawe said of the Mountain View improvements. "They appreciate the design and see we are committed to that campus."

As the design team finalizes its plan to prepare for the eventual construction on the Melbourne campus, Dawe and his board of trustees will launch a capital campaign to raise money to make the Student Services Center a real head-turner, with great equipment and furnishings.

Ozarka officials do not intend to ignore its other campuses. WDND is also working on a master plan to reflect future growth at Ash Flat, and additional facilities at its newest campus at Mammoth Spring.

At the Feb. 6 special meeting, Dawe thanked board members for their hard work on the bond issue, and for continuing work to improve all school campuses.

Board chair Wiles mentioned that the citizens of Melbourne also deserve a big pat on the back for approving a sales tax increase last year which has given the Melbourne campus funds from a half-cent sales tax increase, a big help in a time that high education often faces less funding from the state.

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