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The seeds of higher education were planted in Washington County nearly two years ago when ground was broken for the Springfield campus of the Elizabethtown Community and Technical College System. Now, the campus is in full bloom and ready to receive its first full-time students this fall. A ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony took place Thursday afternoon to unveil the newest addition to the KCTCS.
“I am so pleased to be here today to dedicate this facility, and for all of us to be able to celebrate this wonderful occasion,” said ECTC president and CEO Dr. Thelma White. “A couple of years ago, it was pouring down (rain) and that did not dampen the spirit of this community. We were all jammed under a tent, but we were there, and this community was there, so I know that you all have been looking forward to this day.”
Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles and Springfield Mayor John Cecconi addressed the crowd gathering into one of the building's conference halls, which will also serve as a classroom.
“Today, we have a wonderful new point of entry to post-secondary education for our citizens, and an exceptional new tool for our communities to compete in the global economy,” said Settles. “Today is a very special day for Springfield, Washington County and the entire region as we celebrate the culmination of part of a dream. The dream was to get the building, and the finish to the dream will be all of the people who will be educated and improve their lives as they go through here.”
“How lucky could a community be, as small as Springfield and Washington County, to have two colleges in it? Isn't that wonderful?” Cecconi said. “It won't only serve Springfield, it will also serve the surrounding communities, wherever they are. Let them come, the field is built. I would like to thank Dr. White and (KCTCS president) Dr. Mike McCall for their efforts to help us build a strong community and create bridges of opportunity for our citizens. Working with these visionary leaders, I am confident that we will continue to make great strides in advancing the economic development of our region and improving the quality of life for our citizens.”
White told the crowd that the campus will provide a broad spectrum of educational needs.
“We have many new opportunities that this facility will provide for this community,” she said. “We pledge to continue to partner with you to develop new workforce education and career pathway opportunities for our high-school students, for future college students and for all of the adult learners in the area. We are here as a comprehensive college. While we will be offering many of the technical programs and technical courses, we will be offering many things that this community needs. We will be continuing to assess the needs of this community and continuing to bring those courses and programs that will continue to provide opportunities to build and strengthen this area.”
The $15.5-million cost of the 50,000 square foot facility was made possible by the efforts of former state Senator and current 11th Circuit Court Judge Dan Kelly.
“Years ago, then-Sen. Kelly asked me, 'Is there an opportunity for us to build a facility?'” said KCTCS president Dr. Michael McCall. “Two weeks later, $15.5 million appeared in the budget, and it's because of his tireless effort and commitment, as well as all in the state general assembly.”
“We're here and we're ready,” said Kelly. “The economy is going to go again, and when it does, we're ready. We have a first-class facility to attract industry and train employees. I call this the North Carolina model, where they decided some time ago in North Carolina that they were going to track the high-tech industry that provides high-paying jobs. They're going to build facilities in industrial parks where they can tell the facility that if they will bring those high-paying, high-skill jobs here, we'll guarantee you a highly skilled workforce, and that's what it is going to take to do it.”
While most of the technical curriculum will be taught at the Springfield campus, students will be able to fulfill their general education requirements through a partnership with St. Catharine College. SCC President William Huston elaborated on the agreement between the two colleges.
“When the news broke about the new community and technical college being built in Washington County, I felt like I was a lightning rod,” said Huston. “Everybody came up (to me) and said 'What's going to happen to St. Catharine? What is E-Town going to do and is it going to hurt our college?' When the announcement came, I could say this is going to be for the betterment, not only for our county, but for our region. St. Catharine has grown from a two-year college, that was primarily a tri-county college, to a four-year college that attracts students from over 50 counties. Our two teams have been working together during the last seven months. We have worked out articulation agreements so that students coming in to this beautiful facility will be taught by St. Catharine's professors, and there will be students that will leave here and be taught on our campus. Our library will be utilized by the students here, as well as other spaces on campus. This is a day that we look very proudly upon.”
Dr. White added, “We are true partners. We have signed memorandums of agreement between the two schools. Students will be able to obtain their degrees here. It's very important for educational leaders to work out this sort of thing. Students should not have to get caught in the middle. They will not have to worry about 'Is this going to transfer there?', 'Do I go to this school?' or 'Who's transcript do I have to worry about?' We'll worry about that and we're taking care of that. This is another partnership that will decrease the barriers for students to go to every level in their degree progression.”
Dr. White also announced that Dr. John Isaacs of Springfield has been named as the newest member to the ECTC Board of Directors.
“We had a vacancy on our board, and we wanted to make sure that there was representation from this area,” she added.
After the guest speakers, the president of RossTarrant Architects of Lexington, Martha Tarrant, presented Judge Kelly and Drs. White and McCall with the keys to the facility. Morel Construction Company of Louisville served as the building's general contractor.
Following the indoor celebration, the dedication was moved to the front entrance of the building for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. As Dr. White cut through the ribbon with the standard over-sized pair of ceremonial scissors, a new chapter in post-secondary education in the region began. One that, to the hope of those who helped plant those seeds of education two years ago, will someday blossom into a rich resource of highly-educated and skilled labor.
“We were determined that we were going to get this building built, we were going to do it on time and within budget, and guess what, we did it," White said.