LINCOLN, Neb. - Construction began recently on one of the largest building projects in the history of the University of Nebraska's Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.
"This is one of the most innovative projects in NCTA's history," said Weldon Sleight, dean of the college in Curtis. "Two new buildings, a major addition and several renovation projects will transform NCTA into an institution capable of providing technical and business instruction that will allow its students to return to rural communities as agriculture and business enterprise partners/employees."
Planning for the project began in 2007 when state Sen. Lavon Heidemann led a legislative committee analysis of the NCTA campus. The committee determined that faculty were well positioned to educate students for the future, but that the campus, founded in 1913, needed new and renovated facilities - a new classroom/laboratory facility, student union and residence hall.
In May 2008, the Legislature agreed to provide state funds for the Education Center but required NCTA to fund the student union and residence hall, and to raise $1 million to match the Legislature's $8.7 million appropriation.
More than 350 donors contributed, and within six months the $1 million requirement had been met.
"While it seemed like mission impossible, we were given a chance to become great. So we rolled up our sleeves and never lost faith that we could do it," Sleight said. "I firmly believe that miracles happen when we do the right things for the right reasons, and saving Nebraska's small rural communities is a very noble cause."
Sleight said Curtis native George Garlick, of Richland, Wash., played a key role in the project. Garlick helped build a community center in town. "Then he saw what NCTA was trying to do for Nebraska's small rural communities and determined that he would do something significant for his home state," Sleight said.
With the help of Garlick and the community center board, the center's gymnasium was lengthened and the stage shortened to make the community center the home of the NCTA Aggies. That allowed NCTA's old gym to be remodeled into a student union, providing students a new gathering place.
Garlick testified before the Legislature's Appropriations Committee to support state funding for the renovations. He donated more than $800,000 toward the purchase of an assisted living center that was converted into Aggie West, a student living center next to campus, and construction of a new residence hall north of the current student housing units.
"Dr. Garlick's contribution to the City of Curtis and NCTA has a total value of $2 million, for which we are very appreciative," Sleight said. "Without this tremendous anchor support it would have been extremely difficult to partner with alumni, friends and agriculture groups in pulling the whole project together."
"The University of Nebraska applauds NCTA's forward thinking and is proud of the institution's expansion plans," said Bob Phares, chair of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. "This is an exciting time for rural areas, and the campus development at NCTA characterizes the importance of educating our students to prepare them to make a difference for our communities."
Sleight also emphasized that the Curtis City Council, community leaders, bankers, advisory councils and the Nebraska agriculture industry were critical in the development of the funding and processes necessary to make this project come together.