Construction of new community and technical college in Walker could begin this year _lowres


Now that all funding appears to be in place, Livingston Parish education and business leaders hope to break ground on a new community and technical college in Walker this year.

The announcement came at a Thursday meeting of the Livingston Economic Development Council, which has been advocating for the campus. In 2013, the Louisiana Legislature approved $5.1 in bond financing but demanded the local community kick in about $615,000 to pay for the project.

On Thursday, LEDC President Larry Collins said that money has been pledged, and construction could begin before the year is over, with classes starting in 2017.

Northshore Technical Community College Chancellor William Wainwright was a bit more cautious, saying in an interview that the local match still had to be vetted and the bonds officially issued. However, if those steps occurred by spring, construction could begin in 2016.

Leaders have envisioned offering courses in nursing, welding, machining and industrial maintenance. The new campus also will participate in the Connect to Success program, which allows students to take prerequisite courses and improve their grades at Northshore before enrolling at Southeastern University, Wainwright said.

The chancellor has previously said the Walker campus could accommodate 1,000 or more students. On Thursday, he clarified that the facility, estimated to be 20,000 to 25,000 square feet, would probably have room for 300 to 500 traditional students, not including high schoolers in dual-enrollment classes, which often occur off-site.

The Northshore campus will be located in Walker next to the Literacy and Technology Center on U.S. 190. The Livingston Parish School Board donated 12.3 acres to build the college, with school officials saying they needed a community college because the parish does not currently have one.

“We all knew that this was the right thing to do,” said member Kellee Hennessy after Thursday’s announcement.

The land donation covered most of the local match needed to fund the project. The Parish Council agreed to buy fill dirt as needed to keep the school out of the flood plain. Private companies made up the rest of the donations, and while Collins and Wainwright declined to divulge the specific breakdown, the chancellor remarked that Ferrara Fire Apparatus, which builds firetrucks, helped funding efforts.

Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey expressed excitement for the new campus after Thursday’s LEDC meeting. Those new students are going to need places to shop and eat, he pointed out.

“I think it’s going to be an economic driver for the community,” he said.

Walker High School offers a number of vocational classes and student-run businesses, and Ramsey imagines the new college will be a boon to those teenagers who may take classes at Northshore.

“It’ll be a natural marriage,” he said.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.