As 15 Crowder College administrators and board members dug their shovels into the dirt Thursday afternoon, one man stood in the middle of the group, holding his shovel and smiling proudly.
While the Thursday afternoon groundbreaking for the new McDonald County campus was a significant event for Crowder College, perhaps few appreciated the milestone more than Jim Tatum did.
Tatum, a McDonald County native, long-time board of trustees member, and former board president, played a large role in the founding of Crowder College.
He remembers a time when a community college serving Newton and McDonald Counties was just a dream, and on a sunny Thursday afternoon, he watched that dream continue to grow.
“It means a lot. I don’t quite have words to describe it,” Tatum said of what the accomplishment means for him personally.
Crowder College has been working toward a McDonald County campus for five years, said Dr. Alan Marble, Crowder president.
The planned 250,000 square-foot facility will be constructed on 7.81 acres of land, purchased from Freeman Health System.
The new site will be located in Jane, on Larry Neff Drive, just off of U.S. Highway 71.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring, finish in the late fall of 2013, and classes should begin in 2014.
“It’s a big day for our little college,” Marble said, after offering the sizeable crowd the first official welcome to the McDonald County campus.
Marble said the new facility will be a two-story building, with eight classrooms, three labs and an upstairs community center that will seat approximately 250 people.
Funding for the new campus came in three parts, $1.5 million that was saved up in the Crowder building fund, $3 million that came from refinancing Crowder’s bonds, and $1.5 million from fundraising.
Marble said Crowder has almost reached the $1.5 million fundraising goal, with $170,000 left to go.
While the road to Thursday’s groundbreaking was a long one, Andy Wood, Crowder board president, said establishing a McDonald County campus has been a long-held goal of the board.
“Over the last five years there have been stops, starts, slow down, hurry up, but it’s never been anything but the intent of the board to be here today,” Wood said. “This has been kind of a dream for some of us.”
The land has been staked out, to show where the future facility will go. The building has been designed to be environmentally friendly, and qualify for silver LEED certification.
With more than 10 sites spread across nine counties, Crowder College has made a big push in recent years to reach as many areas as possible.
And again on Thursday, Tatum reminded attendees of the importance of proximity in higher education.
He also pointed out the expected benefits for Jane and McDonald County.
“Demographers and people who know and study these things know that a place like this engenders a number of very positive things,” Tatum said. “One of which is an economic issue, there’s more money going to be available. This is part of a small community here, it’s part of an ever-growing community of people whose lives will be touched in a business way. There will be more revenue, there will be more money for the school system. There will be more money for the county to operate.”
Tatum said most importantly, the new location will offer opportunity to future students who may not have been able to attend college without one so close.
“There will be all the offerings that people need to go on and on,” Tatum said. “And, someday, you’ll hear about people, doctors, and lawyers and veterinarians, and people in business and people who are serving others, that all started right here.”
Crowder College currently offers nursing classes in McDonald County, at a temporary site on Jesse James Road in Pineville. The program, open to 25 students this year and an additional 25 next year, is located in a converted lumberyard. However, that site is temporary and the nursing program will eventually move to the new Jane campus.
A campus that, as Tatum explained, until recently was just a dream.
“What I’ve learned is this: if the motivation is right and it’s good and it’s wholesome and it’s serving and caring about people, it has a chance. It has a really strong chance of being something,” Tatum said. “That’s what’s happened here.”