COTO finds space for innovation center

By Wayne Bryan Published June 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Stephen Schoonmaker, president of COTO, speaks about plans for the building that the College of the Ouachitas acquired Wednesday.

MALVERN — With the signing of a sales agreement on Wednesday, College of the Ouachitas in Malvern acquired a new building for the school’s Center of Applied Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a new front door to the community.

The college purchased the former Stihl distribution center and warehouse on the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Moline Street.

“It’s 600 yards from the existing campus,” said Stephen Schoonmaker, president of the college. “This will give us a big new presence. The front of the building looks like an office building, and we will put up a new beautiful sign that will be seen by all the people who drive by every day. This will be our new front door.”

The main campus is on Moline, a side street in an industrial area next to a railroad line.

The president of the two-year college said he and other administrators are already talking with contractors and architects about renovations to the 26,000-square-foot building.

The building was owned by Dorsey Glover and family and was sold for $1.3 million, Schoonmaker said. He added that the price tag comes with a bonus for the college.

“The owners have been tremendous to us,” he said. “We came to terms quickly, and since the building was empty, we were allowed to move some heavy equipment into the building several months ago. While the building cost $1.3 million, they are giving back $300,000 as a donation to the school.”

He said the College of the Ouachitas has borrowed $1 million, $800,000 of which will go toward the price of the building, and the rest will be for renovation.

“We have limited resources, and we will be trying to stretch our dollars,” Schoonmaker said. “The college has skilled employees like our own HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) people. We will do the renovations in phases.”

Among the programs to be placed in the new facility will be the college’s 3-D design and innovation center.

In January, the college was given 50 3-D printer/replicators for use by pre-engineering students at COTO.

The 3-D printer/replicator has been a much-talked-about technology in recent years. The printer, in a frame about the size of a small aquarium, uses spools of plastic materials, looking much like a cord spool for a lawn trimmer, to produce three-dimensional objects based on digital designs.

“It’s a little like magic,” Schoonmaker said when the machines arrived. “If you have an image in mind, you will be able to make it.”

Bre Pettis, CEO of Maker-Bot, the New York-based manufacturer of the desktop 3-D replicators, said an innovation center at an institution of higher learning will change the dynamics of teaching creative design.

“Class projects can be fully realized and brought to life through 3-D printing and scanning,” he said. “Product prototypes can be created, refined and finalized at a much faster and affordable pace. Schools can train future innovators and be ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing students for the real world and workforce.”

Schoonmaker said the 3-D printer classroom and lab would be the showcase of the center.

“When you walk in to [the center], a glass-walled classroom would allow visitors to see the 3-D lab in operation,” he said. “This was the first year of the pre-engineering program, and it is already near capacity. It is hard to gauge what the second year will be. This new building will provide more space for this and other programs.”

Another major program to be housed in the center will be the two-year mechatronics program, which started in 2012. The classes cover a combination of technical studies that include computers, mechanical operations, electronics and control systems.

The program’s graduates have a variety of skills needed by industries. The needs of local industries shaped the development of the programs. Schoonmaker said he learned from industry leaders that the timber industry is second only to the movie industry in the use of digitally controlled hydraulics.

The large equipment being stored in the building now is machinery to manufacture things made of molded plastic. The equipment was a offered to the college last year by an Arkansas industry and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

“We accepted it from AEDC before we knew what the equipment was because we were to develop a program to provide training using the equipment,” Schoonmaker said. “This is very big equipment, and the faculty will now have the space for the new program. A program in plastic engineering is on the drawing board. We have just not figured it out yet.”

The college president said the equipment would not only be used to train COTO students for new jobs, but also to teach plastic-injection molding to supplemental students — new employees of companies using such equipment or employees expanding their work skills.

The center will offer training for industry in almost all of the programs at the center, with classes held in the evenings or on weekends, Schoonmaker said. This includes the school’s Lead the Way program, which trains students in high-demand skills for high-paying jobs in Arkansas.

In addition, companies and individuals looking to develop programs could enter agreements with teachers and students to develop prototypes using any of the technologies that will be available at the center.

“That is the innovation and entrepreneurial part of the center,” Schoonmaker said.

The property also includes a building next door that houses El Parian Mexican Restaurant. Schoonmaker said the restaurant will continue, with the school as the business’s landlord.

“The restaurant is a favorite for many of the faculty,” he said. “The rent will help make the payments on the loan.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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