May 20, 2014 10:40:16 AM
East Mississippi Community College officials will break ground on a new Mayhew campus student union June 6, a facility that will provide additional classrooms and serve as the school's anchor for student services as it hopes to provide on-campus living spaces in 2018.
The almost-$17 million facility is slated to open in 2016, EMCC Golden Triangle campus Vice President Paul Miller said, and will provide infrastructure, management and support for food services and amenities needed as the campus shifts its focus from a commuter-based student body.
To fund the project, EMCC will utilize monies recently appropriated to Mississippi's four-year, public universities and junior colleges -- HB 787 alone gave the school $1.47 million for capital improvements -- and 20-year bonds. EMCC in turn will service its debt using financial commitments by area tax pledges, including funds from Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties.
Oktibbeha County's Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget provides EMCC with $230,535 for capital improvements. A breakdown of pledges from other Golden Triangle counties was not immediately available at press time.
Besides adding 12 new classrooms, a 100-seat lecture hall and a 100-station computer lab, the ability to move offices and services into the new structure will allow EMCC to reconfigure its current buildings, thereby allowing officials to expand educational offerings, Miller said.
"For example, in the math and sciences building, we'll relocate some of those classrooms and turn those older rooms into more laboratories," he said. "We've been stymied on how many lab sections we can offer at any one time. Moving those classes and then converting those rooms will allow more sections to open up."
Miller also said the school should be able to expand its allied health program through a similar reconfiguration and re-dedication process for classrooms, while providing additional space for e-learning initiatives and computer-based assessments like those used in the Yokohama Tire Corporation pre-employment screening process.
"We've been working on this for a little more than two years. Since the beginning, we wanted it to be a building that meets several needs at one time, while also providing us room to grow," he said. "This is going to give us the living room experience for the campus that most colleges like to have. It will bolster services for our students tremendously. I'm excited about the whole project, especially the fact that we'll be able to meet so many needs at one time."
School leaders have predicted EMCC's enrollment will spike in the coming years as workforce training initiatives gear up for Yokohama's employment needs. The company made a 500-job commitment in Clay County, but additional phases could increase the employment number to 2,000 total positions.
EMCC is expected to become a focal point for expansion projects in tandem with tri-county economic development initiatives led by the Golden Triangle Development LINK. Last week, LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said the group is already researching possibilities for expanding the school's advanced manufacturing technology wing.
The school is also exploring a "two plus two plus two" educational track that will give high school students college credits and exposure to its manufacturing program and the skills needed to either enter the workforce after two years or the ability to transfer to Mississippi State University's school of engineering.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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