Leader Blues

Friday, November 06, 2009

TOP STORY >> Education center ceremony Monday

Little Rock Air Force Base and Jacksonville officials will hold a groundbreaking for the joint-education center on Monday.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Site preparation has begun on the long-awaited $10.6 million Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base, with the official groundbreaking ceremony set for 9 a.m. Monday.

For years, Jacksonville community leaders in conjunction with base brass, have worked to realize a new college facility on the base but outside the security wire. It has been cited as a unique example of military-civilian cooperation.

So new is the idea that the Air Force had to figure out how to legally accept the city’s $5 million share of the project.

Because the existing center is “inside the wire,” it is difficult for Jacksonville-area residents to attend classes offered by six different colleges. That’s been particularly true since security concerns increased after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Currently, classes are held in a converted dormitory building, according to Nancy Shefflette, director of the ASU/Beebe school at the Joint Education Center.

The contractor, W.G. Yates and Sons Construction of Philadelphia, Miss., will build the new cooperative college at the corner of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive.

That’s the same company that built the base’s $9.2 million, 68,000 square foot physical fitness center, which opened six years ago.

The Air Force’s contribution is $9.8 million and Jacksonville’s is $5 million, raised by local residents who approved a dedicated tax for that purpose in 2003.

Although the money available for the building totals $14.8 million, the contract is for about $4 million less.

“This is going to be a tremendous asset for the base populace and the north Pulaski communities,” said Shefflette. “We will have easier access to college level courses, freshman through graduate. We’ll be able to assist many, many more students.”

Although the building, reportedly to be 44,000 square feet, is about half the size of the original 80,000-square-foot proposal, it is designed specifically as an educational facility, with state-of-the-art communications capability, high-speed Internet and is also designed to accommodate students with disabilities.”

The contract includes all electrical work, mechanical work including installation of HVAC systems, plumbing work, site preparation, excavation and backfill and drainage. It also includes foundation construction and building erection.