tupelo — Although a few months behind schedule, the $11.5-million Advanced Education Center in Tupelo is going to bid this week. And as good fortune would have it, the timing may work to the advantage of those behind the effort.
Besides the fact that spring and summer are the optimum seasons for getting work underway, the architect in charge said the project’s size and location has drawn good interest. Terri Williams, with Staub Robison Williams Architects P.A. said because it is far enough north, large industrial contractors from Jackson and Memphis are likely to bid on the project.
“It’s really a good time for bids because there’s not a lot going on, at least of this size,” Williams said.
Bids are scheduled to be opened this Thursday in Jackson at the Bureau of Buildings.
Williams said she anticipates an 18-month construction schedule to complete the 82,000-square-foot center which is located on the Itawamba Community College campus in east Tupelo. At that rate, it is possible for classes to begin in the new center for the spring 2000 semester.
“This is a significant project in the building of the future of this area,” said Harry Martin, president of the regional Community Development Foundation. “We must have a facility for this type of educational training if we are to compete globally.”
When completed, the three-story Advanced Education Center will feature five distance-learning classrooms, a 150-seat tiered auditorium, executive conference room, two media classrooms, dining room with catering kitchen, six computer and technology labs, tiered and standard classrooms and laboratory space. At the center of the building on the ground floor, and visible from the second floor, will be an expanded computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) lab. Charles Chrestman, dean of career education and community services at the ICC-Tupelo campus, said the existing CIM lab on the ICC campus has been in operation for nearly four years. Once moved it will be expanded and further updated. The lab is at the heart of the college’s effort to provide workforce training and development for industry throughout the area.
ICC, along with Ole Miss and the Mississippi University for Women, will teach a wide variety of both credit and non-credit classes in the center and will further allow academicians to team-up with business and industry to meet the future educational needs of the area, Chrestman said.
“The key strands that make up the work force fiber in northeast Mississippi” are going to be represented in the new Advanced Education Center, he said.
In addition to non-credit work force training programs, other classes will focus on instruction in information systems technology and engineering technologies, Chrestman said.
And thanks to the cooperation from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Tupelo will also offer instruction in several allied health professions, including physical therapy, health information management and occupational therapy, said Kathy Aycock, director of the Ole Miss-Tupelo campus. The “W” will continue to offer its degreed nursing program, which will be housed in the third floor of the new center.
The construction of the Advanced Education Center comes at a critical time in the future of campus and the area, Chrestman said.
“It’s been a while, and we desperately need it,” he said.
The ICC campus has not seen the addition of new classroom space in nearly 20 years and during that time enrollment and curriculum at the ICC campus has grown substantially, he said.
The center will serve as the anchor for what is being dubbed the Tupelo Regional Education Park. It sits on 70 acres of landed deeded to ICC by the City of Tupelo last year, a gift that tripled the existing size of the campus, Chrestman said. Future plans for the new land calls for the construction of a student services building that would house new business offices, a cafeteria and bookstore, as well as a information systems technology complex.
The Advanced Education Center is the creation of a truly unique body, said Andy Mullins, chair of the center’s steering committee and special assistant to University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, but one that the area felt it needed in order to continue to thrive.
“It’s been a grand experiment,” Mullins said, noting that the project has had its obstacles but ultimately everyone stayed focus on the prize.
“When it came down to the end everybody worked pretty well together,” he said.
Represented on the committee are educators and administrators from Ole Miss, ICC and MUW, CDF and business and industry.
Instrumental in the project was Rep. Tim Ford (D-Tupelo), for helping pull together funding for the project, particularly the last big push that gave the project an additional $1.5 million in the 1997 legislative session, Mullins said. The legislature had originally approved Ole Miss for $8 million in bond money, and ICC and CDF put into another $2 million. Several other similar projects have been given by the legislature but the Tupelo center was one of the first and the farthest along in planning, Mullins said.
But all of that money will only build the building, it will not go towards furniture and equipment, Mullins said.
To do that, it is estimated another $1 to $2 million will have to be kicked-in by the community.