'Futures' center eyes fundraising

By CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – With the land now secured, plans for the Center for the Professional Futures have turned to fundraising.
A group of leaders from Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties is seeking the money to build the $30 million to $40 million facility, which will allow public school students in those three counties to take high-skill vocational courses.
The Center for the Professional Futures was announced in April to serve students in the eight school districts located in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties, the three entities that formed an alliance to attract Toyota to open a plant near Blue Springs.
The center’s operations will be funded by a $50 million endowment promised by Toyota to enhance education within those three counties. It will sit upon a 44-acre parcel of land located near the Toyota facility on the opposite side of U.S. Highway 78.
That land was purchased over the summer for $6,000 an acre, or $264,000.
Now the Toyota Education Endowment Fund Advisory Committee is working to raise the funds to build the center. It has hired Jason Dean and the Fidelis Policy Group to assist with the fundraising, which will focus on money from federal and state governments and from foundations.
David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation and a member for the advisory committee, said he is hopeful that ground can be broken around 2013. Most schools take about 18 months to build, he said.
Because plans for the new facility have not been completed, a precise cost is not yet known. It likely will cost between $30 million to $40 million based upon the cost of similar facilities, said attorney Greg Pirkle, a member of the advisory committee.
The design will be based on a similar facility in Frisco, Texas. The six-member advisory committee has visited that facility twice.
Rumbarger said that developing an architectural plan is the committee’s next priority.
“The first question is what will it look like and how much will it cost,” he said. “We’re trying to get some answers to those questions.”
Rumbarger said the facility’s location will be ideal because it will be relatively easy for all eight school districts to get students to the center. Also, because it will be built on previously undeveloped land, construction of a campus setting will be easier, he said.
The center will be used to teach vocational courses in such areas as advanced manufacturing, health care, legal services, architecture and engineering. It will also have much of the latest technology, Pirkle said.
“We think our students need the highest quality education and training to compete worldwide and to increase the economic development of our region,” Pirkle said. “We can’t have those goals without appropriate educational opportunities.”
The center also has been discussed by the joint task force of leaders from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University studying ways to promote Northeast Mississippi, Rumbarger said.
“We hope this might be an area of collaboration with the university along with the community colleges,” Rumbarger said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.