WALKER – It takes a village to raise a child, the adage says, but to raise a college campus, it takes a wide group of education officials, legislators, state and parish elected officials.
That was the message Monday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Walker campus of Northshore Technical Community College.
Speakers credited people and groups from Gov. John Bel Edwards and Livingston Parish representatives in the state Senate and House to the parish economic development council and the mayor of Walker with making the project a reality.
“We’ve brought an opportunity not only for Livingston Parish but for the state of Louisiana,” said Dr. William Wainwright, NTCC chancellor, to his audience at the Livingston Parish Literacy and Technology Center.
“It will have a lasting impact on this parish and the surrounding region.”
The ceremony was moved from the actual construction site on Burgess Avenue after compaction tests of the dirt road showed it was not strong enough for autos.
The initial $58 million building to be constructed by Cangelosi Ward General Contractors, of Baton Rouge, will start with 15,000 square feet and will be built to expand, Wainwright said.
If everything stays on schedule, Wainwright said he hopes to have a ribbon-cutting at the end of summer 2019 and open the Walker campus for its first fall semester.
He added that the 600 students who are participating in dual enrollment at the Literacy Center on Florida Boulevard will be able to take advantage of the Walker campus.
“Students attending the Literacy Center will be able to follow a walkway to the NTCC campus” for career classes, Wainwright said, while students at NTCC will be able to follow the same walkway to the Literacy Center for academic classes.
NTCC is not totally new to Livingston Parish; it now offers 20 courses at the Literacy Center.
Livingston Economic Development Council (LEDC) CEO David Bennett, one of the speakers, also announced that LEDC would move to the Walker campus.
Wainwright had a message to his NTCC staff and faculty present.
“To the staff and faculty, you now have one job: Fill it up. People can get an education and the opportunity” to begin or improve their careers, he said.
Dr. Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community & Technical College System, also credited Wainwright and Southeastern Louisiana University President John Crain for the future success of the campus.
“You have excellent leaders in Crain and Wainwright, working together. You don’t see that in some other parts of the state,” Sullivan said.
“These two gentlemen went to battle for this project.”
Wainwright also praised the Livingston Parish school system.
“Without your property donation, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
“Every time we talk about education in Livingston Parish, other people’s antennas push up. They know Livingston Parish is a successful system and does more with a lot less than other systems.”
“Even after the flood here, you didn’t blink,” in support of the NTCC campus, Wainwright told School Superintendent Rick Wentzel and Parish President Layton Ricks.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, a career educator and former parish school superintendent, joked the push for a college here started “in 1900.”
But Pope added that “without the forethought of the Livingston Parish school system, we wouldn’t be in this building (Literacy Center) or the building to be built.”
A total of $700,000 of that cost was raised by the LEDC, Livingston Tomorrow, parish officials and private businesses to show a local commitment to the campus.
The NTCC chancellor called a $98,000 contribution by Livingston Tomorrow “the final piece of the puzzle” in securing its approval.
“For Livingston Tomorrow and the LEDC board of directors, it’s individuals and the community contributing to the economic development in Livingston Parish,” Bennett said.
“Our board discussed the potential opportunity of a community college and the potential benefit to all businesses.”
While LEDC focuses on the industrial sector, Bennett said they recognized the “unique opportunity they had and the contribution would benefit all business in Livingston Parish and all residents of Livingston Parish.”
“It was a win-win situation for all involved. That’s what draws businesses to Livingston Parish, a quality workforce.”
State Sen Dale Erdey also recounted how the Walker campus came about through the state Legislature.
“It’s not about one or two people, but a joint mission of people who put this together,” Erdey said.
In the 2013 legislative session, the fiscal revenue committee was reviewing Senate Bill 204 on community college projects around the state.
It was a long list, Erdey said, from A to Y and the Walker campus was not on the list.
“The Livingston Parish facility was not listed. This disturbed me,” he said.
Erdey said he asked who made up the construction list, the governor or the Legislature and was told it was the Legislature.
“We talked about the need for Livingston Parish and funding. Nine hundred students were going out of the parish to attend other community colleges,” Erdey said.
“We pushed for funding and when it got to the Legislature, Sen. Robert Adley championed it on the Senate side and (Rep. J. Rogers) Pope on the House side.
An amendment was put into the plan to add $5.13 million to the $229 million plan for community colleges.
“There’s lot of excitement, and excitement in the business community, that they can set their goals with these students,” in mind, he said.
The Livingston Parish facility will be the fifth campus of Northshore Technical Community College in the Florida Parishes.
The other four are in Hammond, Greensburg, Lacombe, Bogalusa and Slidell. NTCC also has instructional service centers in Pearl River and Hammond.