By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The House passed a bill Wednesday to keep alive the possibility of state help to fund the Wellspring Center for Professional Futures.
The bill would provide $6 million “in seed money” by the sale of state bonds to help with the construction of the $37 million education center near the Toyota plant at Blue Springs.
The proposal passed 109-6 and now goes to the state Senate. But language was added to ensure that if the Senate does pass the bill, it will still have to come back to the House for additional consideration.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, one of the authors of the bill, told the House that “there are still some logistical problems” to work out with the high-tech education center concept that was developed by business and education leaders from the PUL Alliance counties of Pontotoc, Union and Lee.
The center would serve students from all the high schools in the PUL Alliance. The PUL Alliance was formed to develop the megasite called Wellspring that eventually attracted Toyota to the area.
The PUL Alliance House members all worked on the legislation, but admitted that area school superintendents have expressed concerns about getting students to the education center each day for three hours of classes.
But Holland said the concept still has broad support in the PUL Alliance counties.
“Toyota thinks it will accelerate their production,” said Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, who said there is talk the manufacturer might expand its Blue Springs location. “ … They have a need for technology training for young people.”
Toyota is contributing $50 million over 10 years to the PUL Alliance school districts that can be used to operate the school, but construction must be paid for separately.
Holland was asked if the $37 million center could be built without state help.
He said Northeast Mississippi has “a pretty stellar reputation” of completing projects that it initiates and said people “are working night and day” to find funds to build the center. But he admitted that state help is important to completion of the project.
The House also passed about $250 million in other bond projects, including $29 million for community colleges and $104 million for universities.
The Senate did not pass similar bond legislation, but can consider the House proposal.