When it comes to improving the minds and bodies of our Columbia County youth, you can't get much better than the fortunate convergence of events this weekend.
The groundbreaking Friday of the new Augusta Tech campus near Grovetown promises a bright future of educational benefits, while the opening Saturday of Blanchard Woods Park in Evans is a stellar accomplishment for the county's athletic programs.
The projects share a theme that is all too common for Columbia County: Both are long-awaited and badly needed. With so many new residents coming to the county each year, bringing increased demands for services with them, it's hard for the community and its taxpayers to keep up.
This is especially true of the Tech campus. The Columbia County Center has been on the planning books for nearly 10 years, yet we've watched as McDuffie and Burke counties have already opened their own Augusta Tech satellites - even though those communities are much smaller.
During that period, community colleges such as Georgia Military, Brenau and Troy have opened campuses in or near Columbia County. The major gap has been in technical and vocational education.
Clearly there is a demand for such programs. Augusta Tech President Terry Elam says more than one-fifth of the students on the main Augusta campus are from Columbia County, and that doesn't include those students traveling to the McDuffie campus.
Columbia County's public-school tech programs are among its brightest successes in recent years; the Tech campus will provide the next natural stage for many of those students, while also serving as a badly needed training ground for the county's growing industrial base.
But all work and no play would make the county's youth dull - and unhealthy. So it's an awesome coincidence that on Saturday, the first phase of the county's newest and largest athletic park will open.
Blanchard Woods Park won't be fully built out for another four years or so, but the first phase that opens 40 acres of the 150-acre project will provide significant relief for the county's bursting-at-the-seams soccer programs.
The park will also feature the area's only NCAA-quality cross country course - one with three tough hills that are sure to test even the best athletes.
The Tech campus and Blanchard Woods Park's phase 1 together will cost more than $11 million in state and local funding. That will buy a lot of bricks, mortar and fields, but more importantly, these projects represent a significant investment in Columbia County's future.
Teenage Years 101
These new facilities in Columbia County are targeted for enrichment of the county's young people. But to use those facilities, those youths have to make good choices and stay out of trouble.
To help them take the right path, Columbia County Chief Magistrate Wade Padgett is again offering his Teenage Years 101 seminar, an absolutely essential tool for helping teens understand how the laws affect them.
The next free seminar is at 7 p.m. today at West Acres Baptist Church on Gibbs Road, in Evans.
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