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Okefenokee Technical College Holds Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Open House for Newly Renovated Alma Campus


Okefenokee Technical College celebrated the completion of its Phase 1 Alma Campus renovations with a ribbon cutting celebration and open house on Thursday morning, December 17, 2009. The 28,000 square foot building offers students an expanded library and student services space, larger classrooms and labs for existing programs, and additional classrooms and labs for new programs. The building includes a small meeting room with future plans of a larger renovated conference or general assembly room, as funds become available. The new Alma Campus was first opened for classes in April 2009, but officials delayed the celebration until the original plan or Phase 1 renovations were complete.  Alma Ribbon Cutting

The building was designed by a team led by Rob Evans of IPG Architects & Planners of Valdosta, with Laura Carter as the lead interior design coordinator. In addition to the innovative and collegiate architectural design and modern décor, the building is equipped with the latest instructional technologies including a newly installed CISCO lab purchased with USDA grant funds for the Computer Information Systems (CIS) program.  

A spacious facilities maintenance and construction lab is currently undergoing renovations, as well, with completion set for June 2010. And the progress continues; improvements are also in the works for the maintenance warehouse, which will be used for customized training for area employers. As a result of completed renovations and those in progress, faculty and students are enjoying a student-centered environment that has ample space for current programs with potential for future program growth.

College faculty, staff, and students, along with OTC state and local board members, OTC Foundation trustees, local legislators, community leaders, and elected officials celebrated the campus opening with a program themed Transforming the Doors of Opportunity for Student Success. The ceremony began in the campus courtyard with a welcome by OTC Board Chair Ola Smith. Smith recognized special guests attending the ceremony, including Senator Greg Goggans and former legislator Hinson Mosley; OTC President Emeritus Dr. John Pike; OTC Board Member Jack Johnson; and OTC Foundation Trustees Jay Williams, James Willis, and Larry Paulk; local elected officials; Superintendent Phil Murphy; local business and community leaders; and the media.

Smith, OTC board chair since 2005 and CEO of the McKinney Community Health Center, congratulated OTC staff and Bacon County citizens for their collaboration and vision, stating that the new campus is an ideal setting for technical education. She introduced Gene Davis, former OTC board member and chair, who made a few remarks about the work and cooperation of those dedicated to the project and the satisfaction of seeing the end result. He then gave the invocation.

Austin Johnson, campus dean, introduced the event speakers and turned the program over to OTC President Thaxton.

Thaxton, a native of Dawson, Georgia, and college president since June 2005, presented guests with a brief timeline of building planning and construction. She recognized those who initiated the project and those who took part in making the building a reality. According to Thaxton, the first letter describing the project was sent September 2001 by Dr. John Pike, then president of OTC, to the current commissioner of technical colleges, Dr. Ken Breeden. She noted that Representative Tommy Smith was a strong advocate of the project since its inception, writing the first letter of support in 2002. Thaxton also recognized the role that community leaders played in acquiring the facility. She named Eugene Dyal, Roger Boatright, R. T. Johnson, Elsie McLean, Robert Rentfrow, and Corman Jordan, among others, who lay the groundwork for the project, calling them visionaries who were called to action.

Following the vote of YES TO HIGHER EDUCATION by Bacon County citizens in 2005, the city and county adopted a resolution to donate the land and building formerly owned by Satilla REMC to the state of Georgia under the custody of OTC. “Kudos to this county for taking advantage of the opportunity to expand and enhance the educational facilities of OTC for the citizens of Bacon County,” she stated.

Acquiring the building was just one part of the project. The second piece was renovating it to serve the needs of the College. Thaxton explained that elected officials and legislators in the region, the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), and the TCSG State Board worked with her to secure funding for the renovation of the building.  A little over two million dollars was subsequently allocated for renovation of and equipment for the Alma Campus in the FY2007 state budget. “The decision by the Governor to fund the renovation,” stated Thaxton, “is a direct result of the pro-education, pro-growth business climate of this community.”

Thaxton commended Rob Evans and IPG for their creativity in design and financial prudence. “Our charge to the architects was for them to create a facility that clearly says College Campus that is a part of Okefenokee Tech, and IPG did that.”

“The business community is going to benefit from having a first-class college campus here that provides training opportunities for their existing workforce and allows them to recruit from a pool of highly trained OTC graduates,” stated Thaxton.  “And, this college is a solution for customized training needs of area employers.” Thaxton illustrated this point by explaining the recent partnership of OTC with Ted Murray, owner and CEO of Industrial Forge of Alma. Murray donated a CNC mill to OTC through the Foundation for training prospective employees with the skills needed for his business.

In her final remarks, Thaxton said, “I cannot overstate how instrumental the local government, legislators, and citizens of our service area have been in making this project a reality, and we look forward to your continued support.”

Congratulatory remarks were also expressed by TCSG state board member Ben Copeland, Bacon County Commission Chair Roger Boatright, Alma City Manager Nick Overstreet, IPG President Rob Evans, and OTC Foundation Chair Larry Paulk.

In his remarks, Copeland who was appointed to the TCSG board in 2003 and is president of Patten Seed Company in Lakeland, Georgia, praised the community for their foresight and for the collaboration between city and county governments that made the new Alma Campus possible. He spoke of the importance of technical education to this community and the state of Georgia and explained why he enjoys being associated with technical colleges and the TCSG.

Boatright singled out Dr. John Pike and Gene Davis as key players in acquiring the facility for the Alma Campus. He also recognized former legislator Hinson Mosley, Senator Goggans and former commission chair Eugene Dyal for their work on the project. He thanked Dr. Thaxton for her help with the county’s current training needs. “This is a great day for Alma,” stated Boatright. “With the hospital as the largest employer, OTC is instrumental in providing an educated and trained workforce for local healthcare.”

Overstreet told guests that he felt as if “we would be remiss if we did not credit the citizens of Bacon County for their part in this great day.” The vote of Yes to higher education in 2005 brought about a SPLOST tax that enabled Alma/Bacon County to purchase the facility from Satilla REMC.

Evans then commented on what a blessing the Alma Campus project had been for him and his firm, despite challenges that he and his staff faced with transforming the former business facility of Satilla REMC into a collegiate educational facility. “Gail and the OTC staff were not going to be denied,” he said. “They approached every challenge and bump with a “can do” attitude.

OTC Foundation Chair Larry Paulk thanked guests for attending and invited them to tour the building and enjoy refreshments provided by the OTC staff. He thanked Margaret Fairley, Administrative Assistant to the President, for preparing the food and coordinating decorations for the event and commended the Alma Campus staff for their hard work and attention to detail in preparation for open house.

Following Paulk’s remarks, Johnson directed guests to the front of the campus where they participated in the traditional ribbon cutting celebration. OTC Phi Beta Lambda students distributed maps and memorabilia to guests as they entered the building for tours and refreshments. OTC Public Relations Director Cindy Tanner would like to thank Cherry Rewis with the local chamber and the local media for their help promoting the event. Sincere thanks is extended, as well, to June Alderman and Jim Fairley for taking photos to commemorate the official opening of the facility.


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