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State may decide site for robotics by end of year

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY - Calhoun Community College officials could know by December whether the school will land the site for the state's prized new robotics campus.

Two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne said Thursday that Gov. Bob Riley wants to make a decision about where to put the robotics campus before the end of the year.

During Riley's 2006 re-election campaign, he proposed Alabama develop a robotics campus to train students for high-tech jobs now coming to the state. Over the past year, the idea grew to include not only student job training but robotics research, industry demonstration and testing space.

Riley heard proposals from several colleges wanting the campus, including Calhoun, which remains interested. The governor said the location must be close to the aerospace research facilities in Huntsville but within easy access to industry in other areas.

In a meeting last week with 12 robotics manufacturers, Riley once again stated his commitment to locating in the area. While Calhoun remains a contender for the robotics center, Riley said at that time he has not committed to a site. He joked that he would like the whole thing ready by Christmas.

Wallace State Community College in Hanceville also wants the robotics campus

Byrne's comments came after a state board of education work session.

"I gave him all the information he requested about the colleges," Byrne said. "Now the decision is up to the governor." Byrne said he believes Riley's phase one plan calls for development of a training facility that costs about $16 million.

Last week, Riley said the robotics manufacturers already verbally committed to provide about $42 million worth of robots for the campus. The manufacturers' commitment relieves the state of a huge expense that could move the project forward faster, he said.

"We need you to help us build this," Riley told the manufacturers. "Use it like a lab. Tell us how big you need it, what you need in it. When we are through, we want this place to be the best place like this in the world."

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