Wednesday, February 02, 2011

TOP STORY >> Joint-education center dedicated

Leader executive editor

Gov. Mike Beebe presided over the dedication of the new joint-education center at Little Rock Air Force Base on Tuesday, calling it “pretty spectacular” and “a manifestation of the special relationship between the air base and the community.”

It is the first joint-education center built in cooperation with the military and a community and has been praised by military officials across the country.

The $14.8 million project was funded by the Air Force and a city sales tax that raised $5 million. Seven colleges and universities offer day and night classes to the military and civilians.

“I don’t know why anyone is surprised this is the first facility of its kind in the U.S.,” Beebe said. “The Air Force has marveled at the unique nature of the relationship between the community and the air base.”

“It makes you appreciate how special this place is,” said Beebe, who has emphasized education and job creation as his top priorities.

He said all of Arkansas should salute the local and military leadership, present and past, that made the center possible.

“This helps in our mission to spread higher education,” he told The Leader afterward, stressing his commitment to getting more Arkansans into college classrooms.

The 46,500-square-foot campus is at the corner of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive near the front gate. It offers easy access to civilians, who have found it more difficult to take college courses on the air base since 9/11.

The new center has state-of-the-art classrooms and offices for several colleges and universities that offer classes in a wide variety of degree programs.

The governor praised the men and women at the base “who know their mission. They do it in such an exemplary fashion that when BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) starts, we feel confident because of the cooperation between Jacksonville and the base,” Beebe said.

He said the joint-education center will allow airmen to advance their education and added that higher education is key to economic development in Arkansas.

Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, and Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher echoed the governor’s sentiments and praised their predecessors who did the groundwork for the decade-long project.

There was praise for retired Gen. Paul Fletcher, a former wing commander at the base, Mayor Tommy Swaim and former Jacksonville Rep. Mike Wilson. They worked with former Cong. Vic Snyder, who helped arrange Pentagon funding for the project.

Minihan said, “I brag about this community and state,” and added that the new campus shows that the community is committed to excellence in education.

He pointed to the U.S. Education Department’s Blue Ribbon designation for Arnold Drive Elementary School on the base for being one of the best elementary schools in the state. He also praised plans for a charter middle school on base.

“This community does more than talk,” Minihan said. “This is one chapter in the 50-year benchmark of support for the base.”

More than half a century ago, central Arkansas leaders raised $1 million for the land that was donated to the Air Force to build the base. Among the donors were Mike Wilson’s father, Kenneth Pat Wilson, and Bart Gray Sr., whose son, Thad, also attended the ceremony.

Minihan earlier presented Mike Wilson with the Cornerstone Award at the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon.

Mayor Fletcher also alluded to local support for the base and said, “It was fitting the center is on top of a hill for everyone to see the importance of education.”

The campus reflects “the “American spirit to succeed,” he added.

Beebe echoed similar sentiments after the ceremony.

“This is pretty spectacular,” Beebe said as he toured the education center.

He was impressed with the up-to-date equipment and the variety of courses offered. He said when he went to college, “they threw a catalogue of classes at you. They make it more relevant today.”

Asked if he’d like an education center in more communities, Beebe said he would, again pointing to the need for Arkansans to go to college and get better jobs.

The programs on campus range from associate’s degrees to master’s degrees.

Embry Riddle University has an aviation and aeronautical program. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale has an industrial technology program. Park University teaches criminal justice, computer science, psychology and management programs, ASU-Beebe has classes leading to an associate’s degree in liberal arts and an associate’s of science degree in health science. It also teaches upholstery classes.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has an operations-management master’s program, and Webster University offers a master’s in business administration and other graduate programs.

Contractors for the project included W.G. Yates and Sons of Philadelphia, Miss., Cromwell Architects and Garver Engineers of Little Rock.