Last Thursday’s groundbreaking for the Wallace State Oneonta Academic Center constituted a major benchmark for Oneonta in two ways. It signified progress already made and it galvanizes progress yet to come.
Progress consists of enhancements in the local educational and economic environment already achieved by the “temporary” Wallace State campus (no longer considered temporary), and progress to be further amplified by the planned new center. Together, they reconfigure both the present and the future of the city and county.
It was perhaps the biggest public affairs announcement in Oneonta in recent years as an estimated 400 people – elected officials, local and state; project partners covering the public/private spectrum; educational representatives; economic development persons of interest; students; invited guests; the general public; and certainly not least in concrete contributions to the occasion, the Wallace State Jazz Band and Roary the Lion (mascot) – turned out.
The breaking news of the occasion came courtesy of Gov. Kay Ivey – the crucial but not-entirely surprise announcement of a $2.3 million state allocation for the project that made the day for the dozen or more city officials and other lead horses who anchored it during its more than four-year life.
The $6.3 million project will include the 15,000 square-foot academic center (though it will be used to support workforce development classes as well as academic core classes for transfer to four-year institutions), a separate 5,000 square-foot building across the street dedicated to workforce, community, and economic development, along with contiguous property for future related needs.
Major partners for the centerpiece academic center building include the city of Oneonta with a $3 million stake; the state of Alabama with Gov. Ivey’s $2.3 million contribution; the Blount County Commission, with a $1 million pledge; Hometown Bank, providing advantageous construction loan financing for the new building, as well as sizable tangible and intangible contributions toward the existing temporary campus; the Blount County Economic Development Council, providing tenancy support, workforce expertise, and grant-seeking potential beyond that available to government entities; and Wallace State itself, providing comprehensive educational development expertise, as well as the entire investment in professional educational support, personnel, and infrastructure.
How leaders saw it
Gov. Ivey: “This is a great day for Alabama. By 2020, 62 percent of all the jobs in Alabama will require a postsecondary degree or certificate. Today, only 37 percent of our workforce have such a credential. Today, we celebrate a commitment to educate future generations, and I am especially proud to to begin this project in rural Alabama.”
Oneonta Mayor Ross Norris: “There is nothing that benefits a community more than higher education. It is a game changer. This grant, and this facility, bring new energy to our community, and will generate economic development for years to come.”
Wallace State president Vicki Karolewics:
“What an absolute pleasure it is to arrive at this day, the culmination of five years of planning. Wallace State is indeed honored to call Oneonta home, and to work hand in hand with Oneonta and Blount County representatives to expand workforce and economic development… (This) will lead to generational change and prosperity for Alabama.”
Probate Judge Chris Green: Referring to the sustained cooperative effort of many contributors to make the Wallace state project a reality, Green said that it goes to show that the maxim “‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ is not just a cliche, but a truth to be realized.”
Oneonta city manager Ed Lowe: (The project) is “an economic miracle” for Oneonta. He said it has contributed to downtown revitalization and increased traffic from students and out-of-town visitors. “Having a college in Oneonta will attract new investment, and our existing industries are also seeing an advantage from having workforce development locally.”