Planning stage: Architects mull concepts for facility

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – Architects have begun developing concepts for a new vocational school that will service students in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.
Funds are still being raised to construct the Wellspring Center for Professional Futures, and a timetable for its construction is still unknown. Its operations would be funded by an endowment being created by money that Toyota is providing to support education in the three counties that collaborated to lure the automaker to the region.
Members of the project’s advisory committee are hosting meetings in each of those three counties this week to provide an update on the center, which was first announced during the spring of 2010. About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting in Pontotoc. Similar presentations will be held in Tupelo tonight and in New Albany on Thursday.
Upon announcing that it would open a plant in Blue Springs, Toyota agreed to pay $5 million per year over 10 years to create an endowment that would enhance education in those three counties. That money is different than the $300,000 per year the company agreed to pay each county in lieu of taxes.
It was money that the company chose to give as an additional gift, not money it was required to provide, said Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation, which is administering the Toyota Education Endowment.
A committee formed to determine how to spend the money chose the idea of the center, which will provide specialized training to students from the Pontotoc City, Pontotoc County, New Albany, Union County, Tupelo, Lee County, Nettleton and Baldwyn School Districts.
Those students will still be based in their local school district but will come to the center for one or two courses in a semester. Those courses will be geared toward specific professional skills.
“We are talking about an opportunity that doesn’t currently exist and would be very difficult to provide in any individual school district,” Clayborne said.
The plan is to use the money from the endowment to permanently fund the school’s operations, so that it will not be dependent upon taxpayer money. Meanwhile, Jason Dean of the Fidelis Policy Group is working with the advisory committee to help it find funds to build the school.
Dean is seeking money from a variety of sources, including federal grants, post-secondary institutions, private donors and foundations.
The goal is to get the school built as soon as possible. He said the projected cost will be known when architects complete their plans for how the center would look.
Terri Williams of ArchitectureSouth in Tupelo is collaborating with Amy Yurko and Peter Brown of BrainSpaces in Chicago to develop that plan. The three were present at Monday’s meeting.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com