The Promise of Expanded Educational
Opportunities and Partnerships with Houston County & RAFB Soon
to be Fullfilled with Completion of MSC's Permanent Warner Robins
By Sheron Smith
With renovation and construction well underway at the site of Macon
State College’s new Warner Robins Campus, anticipation is
building among community leaders who helped make the project a reality.
This is an architect's rendering
of what the new WRC's addition, to be built adjacent to the
Thomas School, might look like.
“I’m very excited about it,” said state Rep.
Larry Walker of Perry, who led the effort to secure $5 million in
funding for the WRC from the Georgia General Assembly. “Like
the Museum of Aviation and the Georgia Agricenter, it’s going
to be a tremendous plus for Houston County.”
Scheduled for completion next summer, just in time to offer classes
beginning fall 2003, the new WRC is located on Watson Boulevard
at the site of the Thomas School, one of the few buildings in Warner
Robins that is more than half a century old. Mindful of the historical
significance, project managers are taking care to modernize the
building in a way that preserves many of the original characteristics.
“We appreciate what the Thomas School means to the community,”
said David Sims, Macon State’s plant operations director.
“People are going to be very pleased to see how we retain
the historical integrity of the original building while developing
the site into a college campus.”
A college campus is exactly what Mayor Donald Walker and the Warner
Robins City Council were hoping for when they invested $762,000
in the Thomas School last year and donated it to the University
System of Georgia’s Board of Regents. Earlier this year, Rep.
Walker and other members of the Central Georgia legislative delegation
secured the $5 million state appropriation to modernize the Thomas
School and build an additional facility on the same site for a high-tech,
State Rep. Larry Walker of Perry,
left, who was instrumental in securing funding for the WRC,
holds a drawing of the new addition with state Sen. Michael
Moore of Warner Robins, center, who also supported funding
for the project, and MSC President David A. Bell.
Photo by Ken Hill
Making the project a true community collaboration, the Robins Federal
Credit Union, adjacent to the Thomas School, donated additional
property for WRC parking, while Macon State partnered with neighboring
Nola Brantley Library to expand services for students.
Rep. Walker said during the legislative session that funding for
the WRC was his top priority. He noted that Houston County is the
most populated area in Georgia without a permanent college campus.
“And that’s OK, as long as somebody serves us,”
he said. The new WRC “will serve us quite well, and it will
enhance our ability to keep Robins Air Force Base open.”
Mayor Walker said he considers the new WRC to be the most important
thing to happen to Houston County since the Base, which came along
during World War II and transformed the tiny community of Wellston
into Warner Robins.
“Warner Robins has been considered a ‘temporary’
city since its inception,” Mayor Walker said. “A permanent
college campus, especially one the caliber of Macon State, is going
to give this community the credibility it needs. It will take Warner
Robins to the next level.”
Mayor Walker also believes the new WRC will be the catalyst for
more commercial and residential development along the northern section
of Watson Boulevard, creating something Warner Robins has always
lacked — an identifiable downtown area.
“Warner Robins grew in spurts, and nobody except people like
me who have lived here forever even know where downtown is,”
Walker said. “The new Warner Robins Campus is going to give
synergy to this part of town and provide stability and support for
The WRC’s 24,250-square-foot new addition, to serve as the
facility’s main entrance, will contain classrooms, a multimedia
auditorium, a conference room, administrative offices and a student
The new structure’s roof and brick accent will be designed
to blend in with the 22,440-square-foot Thomas School, which will
house classrooms, science and technology labs and some faculty offices.
Larry Pope of SP Design Group, the project architect, said historical
features to be retained include the school’s corridor breeze
sashes, door frames and transoms. Workers are removing the aluminum
windows that years ago replaced the originals. In their place will
go reproductions of the original clad wood windows. Inside, workers
are removing the acoustical ceiling and installing a gypsum board
smooth ceiling, raising it back to its original height.
Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker,
left, looks over Thomas School renovations with Mike Hale,
Macon State's chief technology officer. The windows on the
left are the Thomas School's original windows, which are among
the historical features to be retained.
Photo by Ken Hill
The outside trim is being replaced or repaired with redwood molding
to match the original.
Landscaping plans for the new WRC include the possibility of a
botanical garden. Mayor Walker has approached Dr. Waddell Barnes,
chair of the MSC Foundation and leader of the ongoing botanical
gardens project at the Macon campus, about expanding those efforts
to Warner Robins. Sims said the buildings and landscaping are being
designed to create a traditional campus environment, in contrast
with the office complex atmosphere of the current Warner Robins
Campus, which Macon State has operated out of leased space off Houston
Lake Road since 1991.
The new WRC will more than triple the space of the current facility,
where enrollment has grown rapidly in the past few years. The number
of students at the current WRC, which has only eight classrooms,
now tops 1,200, and Macon State ran out of expansion room long ago.
That’s why Dr. David A. Bell, Macon State’s president,
said the opening of the permanent WRC will kick off a new era of
educational opportunities and partnerships with Houston County and
Robins Air Force Base, the single most important element in Central
“Houston County has supported Macon State College since its
inception,” Bell said. “They need and deserve a permanent
college campus. The new Warner Robins Campus is one of the most
important things to take place since I became Macon State president.”
Macon State introduced the bachelor of science in information technology
at the current WRC in 2000 and will continue to offer that program
at the new campus, as well as the University System’s core
curriculum. In fall 2003, Bell said, the College plans to add a
bachelor of science degree in business.
“I expect an enrollment of at least 1,500 students when the
new Warner Robins Campus opens,” he said. “I’m
sure we’ll able to keep the place pretty full.”
The new WRC will also serve as headquarters for the Institute for
Information Management, Macon State’s economic development
arm. Mike Hale, the Institute’s director, will focus much
of his attention on developing projects that serve the Base.
Macon State’s presence in Houston County dates back more
than three decades, beginning with the Robins Resident Center, a
program of the University System of Georgia that was established
at Robins at the request of Maj. Gen. A.J. Beck, ALC commander.
Today, Houston County residents make up more than 26 percent of
Macon State’s current enrollment, while military personnel
and out-of-state students, virtually all of whom are connected to
Robins, make up another 14 percent.
Bell said the new WRC will add other degrees and workforce development
programs over time, based on Houston County and RAFB’s economic
“When we open the new campus, it won’t simply be an
event,” Bell said. “This is an evolving project that
is going to pay dividends for years to come. Macon State is going
to become a part of the Warner Robins-Houston County community in
a way we couldn’t before.”