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Support downtown campus
Courier editorial
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Only Hinesville has voted in recent weeks to put up money to build and support a downtown campus that Armstrong Atlantic State University could occupy, along with a new public library.
The Liberty County Commission and Board of Education voted against participating in the partnership. The Liberty County Development Authority then failed to bring a vote on the question after it appeared only it and the city were left to foot the bill for the work.
The county and school board’s decisions, and development authority’s non-decision, are understandable. Times are tough, even here next to Fort Stewart where federal spending on the military has insulated us some from the recession. The Pentagon’s decision to not expand Fort Stewart’s 3rd Infantry Division by a brigade has shaken the area’s economic confidence, even if the division is likely to grow by a similar number of soldiers.
And the local governments are under tremendous pressure to cut spending and taxes. So the opportunity to not increase spending categories, to not add subsidizing a college may appear to be smart action for the present.
We fear, however, the decision may be short-sighted. We’re not saying the present $8 million plan, which would construct three buildings on the recently realigned Memorial Drive, is the best possible or most feasible.
We are saying, however, that the local governments need to meet to see if there is not some plan they could support. Maybe the plan could be phased in, or other sources of funding found that would cut local taxpayers’ share of the cost.
Local governments here — specifically the ones considering building something for Armstrong — have good track records attracting higher education opportunities since 1990. Then the only higher education opportunities offered in the county were for soldiers on Fort Stewart and a few low level, technical classes offered in our then one high school.
Since then, local governments and residents support have attracted a private college and state technical school, both with their own campuses. The federal government invested millions in a campus on Fort Stewart that is open to civilians and that, in part, was attracted by the local civilian support. And a state university has a satellite program in a rented building.
Each of those advances has been preceded by local support, whether it was a donation of land for the private college, the school board, city, county and development authority putting up money to rent space for the technical school’s classes or committing local sales tax for construction of the tech school’s new campus. And each of the local schools report near maximum enrollment.
To an extent, Liberty County faces the same decision many families face as their children grow. How do we afford to make educational opportunities available for those children? Is it worth going into debt? Can we afford to maintain comfortable lives while financing it?
Rarely do families and communities go wrong when financing education. It is an investment in the future. And a downtown campus for Armstrong would also serve as a solid step in redeveloping downtown as a place for business, recreation and education.
There is no assurance that Armstrong would maintain its operation in any new campus, even for the life of the debt for local governments. But there are few assurances in life. And it is more likely Armstrong will maintain a presence in Liberty County if locals show support for it.
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