THOMSON - Even with construction still going on at Augusta Technical Institute's brand new Thomson/McDuffie campus, more than 200 students showed up by 8 a.m. Monday for the first day of classes.
"We're still putting in some furniture and installing computers," said Pete Crawford, the school's vice president of operations, who estimated enrollment between 220 to 225 students.
Despite the presence of work crews finishing up last-minute construction and landscaping, Dr. Crawford said the school's inaugural day went off without any major hitches.
"Everything has been exceptionally smooth - surprisingly," he said.
The new campus is Augusta Tech's first true satellite branch, located about 35 miles from Augusta on a 50-acre tract next to the Thomson-McDuffie County Airport just north of Interstate 20. Another branch campus is planned for Burke County, school officials say.
The 47,000-square-foot, dome-topped facility, including furnishings and equipment, represents an investment of about $7.2 million, the lion's share coming from state coffers, said Brian Roberts, Augusta Tech spokesman.
Once the campus is completed, it will feature eight computer labs, an information technology center linked to the main campus and an ornate 250-seat auditorium with an observatory-style domed roof. School leaders already knew the auditorium would not be operational by Monday's first day of classes.
Dr. Crawford said computers and other equipment should be completely installed by the end of this week and the auditorium should be finished in the next three weeks.
The Thomson campus is primarily targeting students from McDuffie, Lincoln and Columbia counties, said Augusta Tech President Terry Elam. School officials hope to give students in those areas an alternative to making lengthy trips to the main campus off of Deans Bridge Road in Augusta.
For example, Dr. Crawford said he spoke Monday with a student who was happy with reducing a 100-mile roundtrip commute to 30 miles by opting to attend the McDuffie County branch.
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