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OTC gains naming-level donation for $40M manufacturing center

Community college still seeks $5 million in state funding for project

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Construction has commenced on a $40 million academic building that Ozarks Technical Community College officials say is the largest and most expensive project in school history.

A Nov. 12 groundbreaking ceremony on the college campus was punctuated by the announcement of a naming-level investment from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation.

The size of the donation for the Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing was not disclosed by school officials. The building being constructed at the corner of Chestnut Expressway and National Avenue is named in honor of Robert W. Plaster, a southwest Missouri businessman and philanthropist, who died in 2008.

“Dad would be very pleased to help with this exciting project, which will give many more students the opportunity to improve their lives through education and free enterprise,” said Dolly Plaster Clement, Plaster’s daughter and the executive director of the Plaster Foundation, in a news release.

The 120,000-square-foot center, aka CAM, is not the first connection for the Plaster family and OTC. The college’s Table Rock campus, which opened in 2013, also received a significant gift from the Plaster family and is named the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, according to school officials.

“Frankly, when you consider the mission of the college, it may be the most important,” OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon said of the CAM.

The CAM is designed to provide educational and training opportunities in automation, fabrication, robotics, mechatronics, and drafting and design. School officials say it will be the hub for many of OTC’s technical programs, including manufacturing technology, precision machining and computer networking.

“This is actually not only building a big building, but it’s changing the way we do business,” Higdon said. “There’s 30,000 square feet of training space, only 15,000 of which will have our faculty and students in it. The other 15,000 is also some associated classrooms and offices … that will be for industry partners to come in and do their training.”

Matt Hudson, OTC’s executive dean of technical education and workforce development, said the CAM would reflect the manufacturing industry’s shift to more integration and collaboration.

“The industry has changed and the way we train needs to change with it,” he said. “Everything from planning to the way things are assembled, produced, marketed, all the design components – everything is done in a collaboration mode. Our current lab space and small size don’t allow for that kind of integrated collaborative training.”

Seeking investments
St. Louis-based international manufacturer Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE: EMR) donated $500,000 to OTC over the summer as the first gift in a $10 million capital campaign conducted by the OTC Foundation for the center.

The CAM will house the Emerson Innovation Discovery Lab to introduce students to advanced manufacturing processes and serve as a starting and end point for facility tours, according to school officials.

The Plaster Foundation donation is the second gift for the campaign, but Higdon declined to say how close the college is to the $10 million goal.

There will be no public appeal to raise more money, he said, noting OTC prefers low-key fundraising.

“Donors give because of relationships and they give because of purpose,” he said. “With our other buildings, programs and campaigns, we know who knows us and supports our progress. We quietly talk with them and have many donors who don’t even want anyone to know they donate.”

Taxes are another funding source.

Voters within the college’s 16 tax-district schools approved a property tax increase in April 2018 for 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to help pay for the center. OTC officials said prior to the vote the CAM would be built if the tax issue passed, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Additionally, the state previously committed $10 million for the project, Higdon said, and has contributed nearly $5 million through a MoExcels Workforce Initiative grant. The CAM was again on top of the funding requests for this year’s MoExcels program. However, the state cut the program’s funding in response to financial impacts brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

OTC is determined to get the additional $5 million from the state through alternative means. Higdon said the college would seek funds through a program that allows the state to match private donors. The $7.3 million OTC Republic Center, which opened to students in August, received $1.25 million in matching state funding.

“To get the state to $10 million, we’ll ask them to contribute another $5.25 million in matching money. We’ve raised in excess of that,” he said, noting reserves are sufficient to cover project costs until state funds are received. “We feel like the state has made a promise and they have an obligation to hit $10 million.”

‘Beginning of the end’
Higdon said the CAM groundbreaking was a culmination of many years of planning.

“I would say not mission accomplished, because we just got started,” he said. “But it’s relief that we are at the beginning of the end instead of the end of the beginning.”

Columbus, Kansas-based Crossland Construction Co. Inc. is the project’s general contractor, while Dake Wells Architecture Inc. and its national partner, Minneapolis-based Perkins & Will Inc., serve as architects. Construction is expected to wrap by June 2022, allowing CAM to open by fall 2022, according to school officials.

OTC’s Hudson said he’d be able to watch the construction progress from his office window.

“It makes it very real. Until you start having actual construction activity happen, it’s very theoretical to people,” he said. “That’s a nice thing to see a visible sign of work on the corner.”

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