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Henry leaders back Griffin Tech satellite campus

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The 25-acre, wooded lot adjacent to Henry County High School sits mostly untouched these days.

The property is owned by the Henry County Board of Education, which has set its sights on turning the land into a higher education center of sorts for Henry County and its surrounding communities.

Several local leaders met in agreement on this concept Wednesday, during a luncheon hosted by the Henry County Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation. The luncheon aimed to update county leaders on the status of a proposal to bring a Griffin Technical College satellite campus to Henry.

Officials with Griffin Tech and the board of education have expressed a mutual desire to expand their respective vocational-education programs. They recently learned, however, they could, potentially, see the concept come to fruition sooner than they'd thought.

"We're in the ball game now," said Griffin Tech President Robert "Bobby" Arnold. "We're excited about being a partner here in Henry County. It's a real possibility. It's a lot more optimistic than it has been in the past."

The proposed Griffin Tech-Henry County satellite campus has been listed as a moderate priority for the state department of technical and adult education. The project could be funded as soon as next fall and included on the state's Fiscal Year 2010 Capital Outlay Budget. Several projects, however, remain ahead of the proposed campus, and will likely take prescendent, given the state's economic hardships.

The satellite campus would be adjacent to the existing Henry County High School, which is currently undergoing renovations that would nearly double its current capacity. The additional capacity, school officials say, could be used to help support Griffin Tech vocational education programs.

"We're closer than we were last year," said John Uesseler, the career, technology, and agricultural-education coordinator for Henry County. "I think it can provide multiple educational opportunities for those who want to pursue higher education. Having a campus right here will be beneficial for adults, too."

As proposed, the facility would serve about 900 students in adult education, degree/certificate, and dual enrollment programs. Currently, nearly 1,000 students commute from Henry County to Griffin, Ga., to attend the technical college.

"The campus would provide more educational opportunities for Henry," said President Arnold. "It would also increase enrollment over-all at the college and will help attract students from northern parts of Henry County and surrounding counties farther north."

The proposed budget for building a satellite campus is about $8.5 million. The facility is planned to be about 35,000 square feet, with classrooms and laboratories.

"This is the work effort of a lot of people," said Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma. In recent years, the Griffin Tech-Henry County partnership has received major endorsements from the Henry County Development Authority and the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

Kay Pippin, the president of the Henry Chamber, said she believed the county is becoming known for several things, from its regional medical care center to its regional recreational opportunities. "I can think of nothing more wonderful than to be known as an educational center," she said.

Pippin called on community members to support the push to have the satellite campus in Henry. She said the community could even support the effort with donations, in-kind and otherwise, to the Chamber's non-profit Education Foundation to help support future vocational education programs within the county school system.

Added Chamber Education Foundation Chairman Charles Woodruff: "We are in control of this destiny, and it is a wonderful one."