TORRINGTON – The hum of anticipation vibrated the air at the Career and Technical Education Center at Eastern Wyoming College on Thursday as faculty, staff, students, dignitaries and more waited for the start of a long-awaited event.
It was time to break ground for the much-anticipated Agricultural Technology Education Center.
“We’re here to celebrate something big,” EWC President Dr. Lesley Travers told the crowd as she welcomed them to campus. Despite many years of waiting, punctuated by beliefs by some it would never happen, the college community turned out to kick off the future “home for agriculture and veterinary technology programs,” she said.
It wasn’t always a given the college would in fact build the facility, said John Patrick, president of the EWC Board of Trustees. It was, in many ways, an uphill fight to reach this point.
“A terrific battle was fought here,” Patrick said. “It was not a battle of wills. It was a battle of will versus will not.”
Facing opposition and a lack of commitment from the Wyoming Community College Commission to assist with project funding, the Board and college administration began the long battle to get the ATEC facility built. It was particularly fitting the culmination of the battle – breaking ground on the facility – came during the college’s 70th anniversary year, said John Hansen, Director of Institutional Development for EWC.
“This year marks a milestone for the college, our 70th year,” Hansen said. “And for 70 years, this has been a dream, to build a home for agriculture.
“Today, we’re not just building a building, we’re creating a home for agriculture,” he said. “It’s been something that’s been 70 years in the making.”
As previously reported in The Telegram, bids for the ATEC facility were finally approved in December, after the project came in over budget in March 2018. The board initially rejected all the March bids, ranging from $8.5 million to $9.2 million, and sent the project out for a second round of bids.
The winning bid from Sampson Construction included almost $5.3 million for basic construction and an additional almost $1.2 million for site work. Portions of the construction will be funded by a federal economic development grant totaling $1.5 million, said Travers at the time. The balance of the funding for the ATEC project includes a $3.2 million general obligation bond, with the remainder financed through donations.
The revamped ATEC plans call for a conference room and the same number of classrooms and faculty office space as in the initial proposal. There are also provisions for a lecture hall, which could host anything from small livestock sales to veterinary technology demonstrations, Travers said.
Also remaining from the initial proposals is a demonstration area/arena attached to the building.
Gone from the basic plans are a covered portico over the west-facing entrance to the front of the building, a second boiler, bleacher seating in the lecture hall and some stalls from the demonstration arena. Some of those items, including the bleachers and boiler, along with options for asphalt or concrete paving in the parking lot, were included in the bids as alternates, which the college could opt to add in to the project as construction advances.
Once completed – EWC is aiming for the first classes in the fall semester of 2020 – the ATEC will house precision agriculture classes and more, freeing up space currently being shared in the Career and Technology Education Center, dedicated in August 2017. The college’s Veterinary Technology program will also utilize portions of ATEC, while maintaining some specialty labs and classroom space in its current building on the main campus.
The ATEC project is the final of a triumvirate of projects which included the Douglas campus and the CTEC facility. ATEC, however, was the first facility college officials hoped and planned for, Trustee chair Patrick said.
“But it ended up being the third building we built, just because of funding,” he said. ATEC, at around $8 million, Douglas, about $10 million, and CTEC coming in right at $23 million “represents an investment of about $41 million in education for the students in our service area.
“I don’t know how you can do anything but feel good about that.”
With the exception of the $1.5 million Rural Development Grant received with the assistance of the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation, funding for the ATEC was achieved through the 2014 bond issue and donations. Funding drives for the facility were spearheaded by Hansen and the EWC Foundation.
“This is a great day for Eastern Wyoming College and its service area,” said Foundation President Todd Peterson. “This is the culmination of a process that’s taken several years and the efforts of many, many people.”
Funding was only one of the challenges to building the ATEC as well as the agriculture programs at EWC, Peterson said. Several years ago, the Foundation issued a challenge to both the faculty and the administration of the college to ensure the curriculum matched the facility they hoped to build.
“If we were going to be committed to raising the investment necessary to build this facility, that we truly did have a top-notch ag program and the commitment by the administration,” he said. “Faculty and administration have made changes, and continue to make changes, to make sure what we produce out of this facility will be top of the industry.”