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ADVANCED CONSTRUCTION: Robert Randolph leads the $40 million Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which is halfway through construction.
Heather Mosley | SBJ
ADVANCED CONSTRUCTION: Robert Randolph leads the $40 million Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which is halfway through construction.

Higher ed building projects stay on schedule, budget

Construction for OTC and Drury academic facilities is set to wrap by July

Posted online

A pair of construction projects totaling $67 million on the campuses of Ozarks Technical Community College and Drury University remain on pace to debut in August next year.

OTC officials report the $40 million Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing is about seven months from substantial completion. Under construction less than a mile away, the $27 million C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly Enterprise Center is on an identical timeline, according to Brandon Gammill, Drury’s vice president of facilities operations. Both remain on budget, school officials say.

Construction of the academic buildings started within weeks of each other in fall 2020.

“Right now, we’re at about 60% completion,” Gammill said. “We’re on track to open the doors the first week of August.”

The O’Reilly family provided an undisclosed financial gift for the Drury project, which is entirely funded by private donations. The building comprises 67,000 square feet, including the attached 12,000-square-foot Judy Thompson Executive Conference Center for meetings, workshops and speaker events. It will be the new home to the Breech School of Business Administration, the department of political science and international affairs, and other programs, school officials say. It also will include a cafe open to the public as well as the Robert and Mary Cox Compass Center for academic advising and career planning.

Over at OTC, construction started in November 2020 for its 120,000-square-foot center, aka PMC – a project school officials note as the largest and most expensive in its history. Columbus, Kansas-based Crossland Construction Co. Inc. is the project’s general contractor, and Robert Randolph, executive director of the PMC, said the college is on track to gain control of the facility at the end of June.

“We’ll be moving in quickly throughout July and over the summer. We’ll be ready for opening in August 2022,” he said. “We’re just a little more than halfway through our construction.”

The PMC, which sits at the corner of Chestnut Expressway and National Avenue, is named in honor of southwest Missouri businessman and philanthropist Robert W. Plaster, who died in 2008. School officials declined to disclose the naming-level investment from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation.

Intentional design
The PMC is designed to provide educational and training opportunities in automation, fabrication, robotics, mechatronics, and drafting and design. It will serve as the hub for many of OTC’s technical programs, according to school officials. Those include computer networking, manufacturing technology and precision machining.

Randolph said the building includes 30,000 square feet of training space that serves as a manufacturing factory floor replica. Half of the space will be utilized by students, while the remainder will be available for industry partners to lease. That can be for training, new product launches or shop space for manufacturing startups, he said.

“There’s lots of opportunities for this space from an economic development standpoint,” Randolph said. “We wanted to really incorporate true industrial equipment into our training program. We’ve been working to do that so far, but we’re quite frankly limited by the design and space in our labs. This will allow us to use true industrial equipment. It’s constructed to function as a real factory.”

During a recent construction site tour with Springfield Business Journal, Randolph pointed out the abundance of natural light in the building – a design component meant to reflect modern manufacturing facilities.

“One of the things that we really want to accomplish with the design of this building and the way we’re teaching our students is to change the stigma about manufacturing,” he said. “We don’t want people to think about a dark, dirty and dangerous factory. We want them to think about something that’s clean, bright and safe.”

Matt Hudson, OTC’s executive dean for career, technical and community development, said the PMC has a building capacity of roughly 700 people. A goal within the next three to five years is to increase enrollment in the manufacturing programs by around 50%, he said, adding OTC also wants to target more adult students, ages 25 and older.

“The intentional build of this building is to try and have a public face for a prospective student to understand just how significant manufacturing is and what kind of career it can provide,” Hudson said. “There are opportunities here for the underemployed or unemployed despite your age. That’s the kind of message that in a low unemployment market is hard to share.”

October’s unemployment rate was 2.4% in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s down from 3.2% a year ago. Missouri’s jobless rate in October was 2.8%.

Tech-focused
The O’Reilly Enterprise Center is the first capital project under construction as part of Drury’s 25-year master plan, school officials say. It includes 11 classrooms with an average seating capacity of 35, as well as smaller breakout work areas with technology available for expanded in-person and virtual learning options, Gammill said.

“One thing that COVID has taught us is we need technology for distant learning,” he said. “Every teaching and learning space in this building will be equipped with distant learning technology.”

Drury’s current enrollment is 2,679, including 1,409 undergraduates on campus, according to its website.

Gammill said the project, for which Nabholz Construction Corp. serves as general contractor, has remained on budget and schedule since work began in late October 2020.

“Like everyone in the construction world, we’ve had some supply chain issues,” he said, noting it’s occasionally meant finding products from a different manufacturer. “We’ve held to our original plans. Any changes that we’ve made have actually been changes for the better. We’ve been able to make better technology choices and select better equipment.”

As construction continues at the southeast corner of Drury Lane and Central Street, Gammill said the three-story building will be one of the taller roof peaks on campus.

“Every step towards completion makes it more of a reality,” he said. “It’s going to create a new center for our campus and just everyone here is truly excited for the doors to open up.”

OTC’s Hudson said the PMC is fueling excitement on campus and beyond.

“This is a project that has been a central focus for so long,” he said. “We’re ready to see it done and really get in and make that difference in our community.”

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