Hope, Hempstead County, and Southwest Arkansas celebrated Tuesday as the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope broke ground for one of the premier educational facilities in the state and opened a state-of-the-art science technology center on campus.

Federal, state, educational and local leaders told the 200 or so in attendance at groundbreaking ceremonies for Hempstead Hall and ribbon cutting ceremonies for the UACCH Science/Technology Center that Hempstead County was in the forefront of educational partnership and progress. Congressman Mike Ross, D-Ar., a 1979 graduate of Hope High School congratulated “the voters of Hempstead County who chose to tax themselves” to support the $10 million auditorium/conference center project.

“The sucess of this project has been directly correlated to the power of partnership; the partnership between the voters of Hempstead County, the City of Hope, Hempstead County and the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope,” Ross said. “These types of partnerships are an example of what can happen when people come together to work to better the community.” “This goes beyond Hope and Hempstead County; this is going to be a shining light for all of Southwest Arkansas,” he said. “This will serve as an innovative approach to economic development for Hope, Hempstead County and Southwest Arkansas for many years to come.”

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said that Hempstead County is doing what he has asked the entire state to do. “In today’s world, now more than ever, community colleges are responding to the workforce needs of their region and state,” Beebe said. “Hempstead County is a valuable player in this whole process of talking about education and economic development.”

He said without the development of a highly-educated workforce, Arkansas will only continue to provide employees to other states. “It’s incumbent on us at the same time we work on education to work on economic development, so that when they get that training they can stay right here in Arkansas,” Beebe said. “Historically, our two-year colleges such as UACC-Hope have provided affordable and accessible education.” He said that the development of Hempstead Hall is “another opportunity for that to be delivered in fine fashion.” But, Beebe said the key to the process is the people who support higher education at the local levels in communities statewide.

“The strength and vitality of an institution lies in its people; it lies in its teachers, its administrators and staff, in all the people in the community that support it from the board of visitors to the foundation board; all of the community leaders that work together to try to make the institution viable,” he said. “We’re here to celebrate the actual accomplishment of ‘town and gown.’ But, it’s merely the beginning of a long road of cooperation and success between a community and the institution that serves that community.”

University of Arkansas System President Dr. B. Alan Sugg said UACCH’s growth has been a remarkable story. “Back in 1996, the citizens of Hope and Hempstead County overwhelmingly passed a quarter-cent sales tax to expand educational opportunities at UACCH,” Sugg said. “The enrollment promptly took off like a rocket; and, any way you measure it, UACCH has been hugely successful, and the college has become the cultural and educational center of Hope and the surrounding counties…. The citizens of Hope and Hempstead County are to be commended for their vision and committment in making this community a better place to live, work and raise a family. And, to the faculty, staff and administration at UACCH, I thank you for developing a great community college, and I am tremendously proud that UACCH is part of the University of Arkansas System.”

UACCH Chancellor Chris Thomason said the Hempstead Hall project will be a monument to the “spirit” of the community in Hempstead County, and its service to higher education. “In about 18 or 24 months, we will be able to come together on this campus to celebrate the grand opening of Hempstead Hall,” Thomason said. “But, we won’t just be celebrating the building of another building. What we will be celebrating is the realization of a dream; a vision to construct a multi-purpose facility here in Hempstead County for all the residents of Hempstead County. Hempstead Hall is becoming a reality and is now within reach because of the commitment and sacrifice of all of Hempstead County, Arkansas… This dedication day best demonstrates that dedication in the fact that they passed a sales tax in diffcult economic times to make this building a reality….

“I don’t know that there has ever been a day that I have been more proud of this place I call home.” Community and area political leaders also praised the project in a video presentation before the official “turning dirt” on the UACCH campus Tuesday. “I believe the possibilities are endless for this facility, for the college and our community, and I could not be any more proud for our community,” UACCH Board of Visitors President Jerry Pruden said.

Hempstead County Judge Wallace Martin explained the genesis of the project. “Two years ago, a group of us met out here at the college, and we discussed the possibility of a building like this, and there was quite a bit of enthusiasm among that group. We started taking steps to bring it about; and, we took it before the voters and they voted the sales tax, and I think it’s something we are all going to be really proud of,” Martin said.

Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey followed that by noting, “Some fifteen months ago, the voters of Hempstead County voted to tax themselves to build Hempstead Hall…. It will serve to bring events to Hope and Hempstead County which will help our economy, including educational opportunities, civic and cultural opportunities, as well as events and conventions which will serve to help the economic growth of our area…. Grow, UACCH, grow.”

UACCH Foundation Chairman Ned Ray Purtle expressed thanks to supporters of the project. “As chairman of the UACCH Foundation Board, I want to personally thank Hempstead County for your support of Hempstead Hall,” Purtle said. “Since the foundation board and agreed to sponsor the election to bring this issue to the taxpayers of Hempstead County, we are grateful for your support. The foundation is already at work looking at events for this facility that I feel will be an asset for the students to use for generations to come.” And, area legislators State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, and State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, D-Hope, added congratulations.

“From a personal standpoint, and as a legislator, I’m very proud of what goes on out here on the UACCH campus. Nothing could make me prouder than the Hempstead Hall project. I’m very proud of the voters; they’re the ones who made it possible to bring this beautiful building to reality in a couple or three years. As a 55 year resident of Hope and Hempstead County, I think our folks here have done a wonderful job of showing a progressive attitude….,” Powers said.

By Ken McLemore Hope Star Wed Aug 19, 2009, 05:14 PM CDT