Columbus Technical College – 50 Years of Service
Technical colleges in Georgia started taking shape just after World War II. Georgia was having difficulty attracting industrial development due to the shortage of a trained labor force. This led to the founding of a system of State Area Vocational-Technical Schools.
In the mid 1950’s, a committee of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce was charged with finding a location for a vocational-technical school in Columbus. The committee consisted of Director of Vocational Education J. M. Caldwell, William Swift, A. Perry Gordy, and Guy Snavely, Jr. A second committee composed of M. C. Haley, J. W. Feighner, Gunby Jordan, Jr., and Allen Woodall, Sr. was charged with working on labor supply.
In 1958, the Muscogee County Board of Education approved a Vocational-Technical School for Muscogee County and appropriated $275,000 to match State funds. The school was to be located in an area with a growing population and a concentration of industry-providing opportunities. The site approved in December 1959 was at 45th Street and River Road.
In 1960, the Department of Education approved a funding package including Columbus Area Vocational-Technical School. In 1961, the school board appointed Jere M. Richardson as its director.
The school’s initial offerings were: Electronics Technology, Mechanical Technology, Drafting, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Auto Mechanics, Appliance Repair, Radio and Television Repair, and Machine Shop. A similar set of courses were approved for the new Muscogee Area Vocational-Technical School on Forest Road in Columbus. This school was under the direction of Henry Smith and was developed for African-American students due to segregation laws that existed at the time.
Construction and equipment costs were shared by the Muscogee School District and the State Department of Education. The District provided the land, maintained the buildings, paid utilities and custodial help while the State paid instructors’ salaries.
Classes got underway on December 1, 1961 with nine employees and 39 students. In 1965, A. Perry Gordy was named director of the Columbus Area Vocational-Technical School. Columbus Area Vocational-Technical School was accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS) on December 12, 1972. Mr. Gordy served until his retirement in 1979 at which time W.G. “Griff” Hartline was named President and led an impressive era of growth and progress.
Soon, a new two story building was added between the 45th street facility and Daniel Jr. High School. The 96,000 square foot building was completed in 1977 at a cost of $2.6 million and today is named after the late President Hartline. The addition of a 120,000 square foot classroom building on the north side of Manchester Expressway -known today as Carl Patrick Hall- was made possible by a combination of a gift and the purchase of land occupied by a drive-in theater owned by Martin Theaters. In 1987, control of Columbus Area Vocational-Technical School was transferred to the State of Georgia and became Columbus Technical Institute. In 1994, Columbus Tech further expanded opportunities for students with the construction of a library building. Columbus Technical Institute became accredited by SACS to offer the Associate of Applied Technology degree.
President Hartline retired in 1995 and Eugene DeMonet served as president until 1998 when he was succeeded by current President J. Robert “Bob” Jones.
Columbus Tech entered a new era in 2000 when Georgia created a system of technical colleges and Columbus Technical Institute officially became Columbus Technical College. Columbus Technical College took this opportunity to renew itself, strengthen its presence in the region, and determine the best use of its resources. As a result Columbus Technical College has changed dramatically.
The leadership of the college knew that among its priorities would be helping the manufacturing base and implementing an important service sector program. The college also looked at where it could be impact critical and growing employment areas. It became apparent that healthcare was going to become the fastest growing sector. It also was apparent that the college did not have the capacity to absorb the expected growth in this field without a significant expansion of its facilities.
Columbus Technical College decided to put an emphasis on building a strong and reputable health sciences program. In 2001, the college invested $2 million for 27 acres on River Road for the development of a new health sciences facility. This property expanded the college’s footprint to approximately 56 acres. The property contained a carpet mill needing demolition at a cost of $1.8 million.
In 2005, Columbus Technical College Foundation, Inc. embarked on a capital campaign to raise private dollars to leverage state assistance with the project. The Foundation’s capital campaign raised almost $10 million and the General Assembly approved bond sales of $16.285 million for the development of the building and the site. The project got underway on May 20, 2008.
With support of the local community, what began as a Health Sciences building, turned into the development of a beautiful new campus complete with the infrastructure for future growth. In the fall of 2010, the college celebrated the opening of the Robert L. Wright, Jr. Health Sciences Center. This building, named in honor of local entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Robert L. Wright, Jr., is what many believe to be the finest health sciences education resource in our region. This state-of-the-art facility offers students the finest learning environment combined with the highest level of education and training possible. It also reiterates Columbus Technical College’s commitment to the long term growth of its services and the maintenance of the highest standards in education for our community.
In 2011, the college became one of three technical colleges in Georgia authorized to offer the Associate in Science Degree and introduced three new degrees, in addition to its Applied Technology Degrees. At the same time, it completed the conversion to the semester system. In order to assure students the ability to plan their career path with some level of certainty, agreements were signed with several four year colleges and universities including Columbus State University so students with satisfactory grades could easily transfer these degrees into a Bachelors program.
A vital part of Columbus Technical College’s success is its partnership with Georgia’s Quick Start program. This innovative program started in 1970 and has become a national model for training and for expansion of industries. Columbus was one of the first large Quick Start/college partnership success stories when Pratt and Whitney moved its operations here.
The Columbus Technical College of 2011 is far removed from the Columbus Tech of 1961 but its mission of providing a skilled, educated workforce remains the same. Modern technology, sophisticated equipment, and complex subjects are the norm in classrooms and labs. The college now offers over 90 fields of study and employs approximately 200 full time and 180 part time employees. It has about 4,000 students per semester and operates on an annual budget of approximately $18 million. Students enjoy a very high placement rate and the cost of attending Columbus Technical College remains highly affordable.
In 2011 the world is changing more rapidly than anyone could have imagined. Therefore, Columbus Technical College is renewing its commitment to investing in planning, research, services, facilities, people and technology to prepare for a vastly different future, whatever it may be.