Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TOP STORY > >City to give $5M for new campus

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Publisher

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim will present a $5 million check during a luncheon Friday at Little Rock Air Force Base as the city’s share of the cost of a new joint education center to be built near the front gate at the base.

The Air Force is paying $9.8 million as its share of the $14.8 million project, which will offer college-level classes to both military and civilian students.

Swaim will present the check to Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., during a luncheon of the Little Rock Air Base Community Council.

“Jacksonville citizens have a long history of financial support to the base,” Swaim said.

In the 1950s, Jacksonville leaders helped raise $1 million needed to purchase the land for the base, Swaim said. Many of them donated their property.

Jacksonville residents had approved a 1-cent sales tax in 2003 to raise $5 million for the education center.

The air base expects to award the construction contract in December or January and complete the project in September 2010, according to James McKinnie, chief of the 19th Civil Engineering Squadron.

The facility “will be larger scale and offer a variety of class,” McKinnie added.

The center offers a “world-class learning environment” while offering easier access for students and employees coming off the base, McKinnie said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The air base has an education center, but access has been restricted since 9/11. The new joint education center will be more accessible to both students and faculty from several colleges and universities.

It took the federal government until last year to authorize its share and in the meantime, the cost of steel, asphalt, concrete and petroleum have risen dramatically, reducing the amount of building the Air Force and city will get for their buck.

The rising cost of construction materials means the building will be 50 percent smaller than originally anticipated.

At one time, the building was envisioned as an 81,000-square-foot structure adequate to provide all the space needed for several colleges to hold classes.

Even when the Jacksonville contribution is formally accepted, the building may be 44,000 square feet or less, McKinnie said.

He said the building could come in at about 35,000 square feet.

Soil testing also proved that the building site, roughly at the intersection of John Harden and Vandenberg Boulevard, had expansive soils, bad for building.

The net effect of that is to increase the cost of building the foundation, McKinnie said.

The engineering is about 50 percent done now, he added.

Current plans call for access to the building from John Harden, he said, but if there is enough money, a second drive off Vandenberg could be added.

McKinnie said the downsized version might not be large enough to accommodate all of the center’s needs.

He said it would be large enough for about 528 students in various classrooms, computer and science labs, but without much office space.

He said some of the college’s functions, particularly administrative, might still occur in one of the old joint-education center buildings, on the base behind the fence.

The new building also is designed to meet the LEED environmental standards, nearly to the “silver” level, McKinnie said.

He added the plan called for leaving as many trees on the wooded site as possible.

Senior writer John Hofheimer of The Leader contributed to this report.