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Gov. Bob Riley and Bradley Byrne, chancellor of the state's two-year college system, at Calhoun Community College on Tuesday. Calhoun and Wallace State-Hanceville are competing for a robotics center. Riley and Byrne will play key roles in deciding which college gets the center.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Gov. Bob Riley and Bradley Byrne, chancellor of the state's two-year college system, at Calhoun Community College on Tuesday. Calhoun and Wallace State-Hanceville are competing for a robotics center. Riley and Byrne will play key roles in deciding which college gets the center.

Battling for robotics
Calhoun College, Wallace
State lobby for center

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Location, location, location.

That's often described as the key to business. It's also the main difference in the pitches two North Alabama colleges made to get Gov. Bob Riley to locate a proposed robotics center on their campuses.

After a Tuesday afternoon meeting, Wallace State Community College President Vicki Hawsey said her college emphasized its strategic location at Hanceville. The college is near the largest number of advanced manufacturing industries in the state, near Birmingham, near the center of the state and near Interstate 65, she said.

The governor and new two-year-college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne attended the meeting.

Complete details of Wallace's presentation were not available because Hawsey closed the meeting to the press for "proprietary reasons."

She said after the meeting that the college and Cullman Industrial Development Authority members wanted to discuss property that might later be a part of purchase negotiations.

The governor's press office said it was college officials' decision to close the meeting. Riley expressed surprise, when asked for details of the meeting, that the press was not allowed to attend.

Calhoun Community College made its presentation to Riley in January, and again for Byrne on Tuesday morning. The new chancellor visited the Decatur school as part of a tour of the Alabama College System that he now heads.

Calhoun promoted its location — near Huntsville and its high-tech and aerospace industries, in one of the fastest-growing areas, and near Redstone Arsenal. It also said Pryor Field, the airport adjacent to the Decatur campus, would allow industries to fly students directly to the college.

Both colleges promoted their strengths in work-force development and their existing robotics classes. Both are in regional consortiums funded with federal grants that might benefit a robotics center.

Both colleges have property available for the center, and both said they could buy property if needed.

Calhoun officials proposed 10 acres adjoining the campus in January, but Riley said that wasn't enough. Calhoun officials offered more land possibilities at Tuesday's meeting with the chancellor.

Calhoun President Marilyn Beck presented at least five locations.

The state already owns 50 acres on the Delphi property across U.S. 31 from the Decatur campus and 159 acres at the former Wallace Developmental Center on U.S. 31 in southern Decatur.

Several farmers in the area recently told Calhoun that they would be willing to sell land adjacent to the Decatur campus. The Limestone County Industrial Development Authority said it also has room in an industrial park near the Tanner interchange that will be built on Interstate 65.

The center could also go on a planned TVA Megasite near Brownsferry Road, designated for economic development.

Both colleges impressed the chancellor with their presentations. Byrne said he would like to see the two form a partnership in robotics, although that doesn't solve the location problem.

"I said this morning that Calhoun's presentation would be a hard target (for Wallace) to reach, but Vicki and her crew presented an excellent proposal," Byrne said. "We have two excellent colleges and two excellent proposals."

Riley and Byrne agreed that the governor would make the decision through consultation with the chancellor and other economic development officials. The governor said the cost and a funding source for the three-phase project have not been determined, but he hopes to decide on the location in the coming months.

The cost discussed in January was about $40 million, but Riley said he's not sure if that's accurate.

"We'll sit down and try to figure which of the two or three places that would like this project would be the best location," said Riley. He declined to say whether a third party is in competition.

"All will do a fantastic job, and the people they serve will benefit tremendously from this project."

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