Originally created 09/05/97

New Augusta Tech campus in Thomson almost ready



THOMSON, Ga. -- The dome-shaped roof of Augusta Technical Institute's new Thomson/McDuffie Technology Center rises out of the red Georgia clay like some spaceship in a B-rated science fiction movie.

Located about 35 miles from Augusta on a 50-acre tract next to the Thomson-McDuffie County Airport, the 47,000-square-foot branch building is entering final construction phases.

The site, targeting students from McDuffie, Lincoln and Columbia counties, is Augusta Tech's first true satellite branch, said Peter Crawford, vice president of operations. Another branch in Burke County is on the drawing board, he said.

Classes begin Sept. 29 and crews are working quickly to finish the $7-million-plus Thomson facility before then.

"I'll be in charge of the place," said Mr. Crawford, strolling through the school's dusty corridors as a bevy of workers conceal wiring in the ceiling, apply touch-up paint, and assemble furniture.

Even if there are a few loose nails lying around and the grounds lack sod when students show up for the first day, Mr. Crawford said he doesn't care. He's just ready to start.

"I want to open," he said. "I suppose we could have waited until January (to start). But everybody expects to go to school in September."

When fall quarter begins, school officials hope to have 250 students enrolled and 300 by spring. The campus "could easily" hold 800 to 1,000 students, said Terry Elam, Augusta Tech president.

But school officials are resigned to the fact that the dome-topped 250-seat auditorium won't be finished when classes begin.

"We'll be here, but the auditorium may not be finished off," said Mr. Elam.

Once finished, however, the auditorium and the new campus' library, Internet access and other resources will be open to the general public, not just students.

The Thomson campus will have 10 instructional programs, including accounting and industrial maintenance, compared to 40 at Augusta Tech's main campus on Deans Bridge Road, Mr. Elam said.

With two large nurseries - McCorkle Nurseries Inc. in Dearing and R.A. Dudley Nurseries Inc. in Thomson - nearby, Mr. Crawford said the Thomson campus will have a different horticulture program than the main Augusta campus because the emphasis will be on nursery production.

Overall, the building itself represents an investment of $5.2 million and $2.3 million in furnishings and equipment. Most of that money came from state funding, but more than $900,000 was donated from the McDuffie County community. That does not include the land, which was handed over by the Knox family.