Great Plains Technology Center will mark its 50th birthday Friday, almost 50 years to the day the campus was officially opened.
Then called Great Plains Vocational Technical Center, the campus that opened to the public on Sept. 18, 1971, was comprised of one building — today’s Building 100 — which already was holding classes for high school students and adults on a 57-acre tract that had been prairie grass and farm grazing land only two years before. Today, Great Plains Technology Center (the name was changed in January 2000) boasts 10 buildings that offer an array of services and teaching environments for the high schoolers, career-minded adults and industries that need Great Plains’ education and training expertise.
Some of those areas will be on display Friday, with more than 30 technical demonstrations and displays planned as part of the celebration that begins at 3 p.m. with a re-dedication ceremony in the Worley Seminar Center. The center was named for Milton Worley, the man whose vision and determination brought Great Plains into being and who went on to be the center’s first superintendent.
Today, Superintendent Clarence Fortney said it’s important to recognize the continuing contribution Great Plains and its staff has provided to the community, Southwest Oklahoma and community partners.
“We look back on that 50 years of history and it reminds us, we still have opportunities to move forward,” said Fortney.
Fortney said the adaptability that is Great Plains’ trademark is typical of Oklahoma’s Career Tech System.
“That’s how the whole system operates, meeting the needs of local communities, being a training partner,” he said, explaining that in addition to providing career training to teens and adults, Great Plains helps existing and soon-to-be businesses meet their needs.
A primary example is Goodyear, whose 40-year relationship with Great Plains predates the opening of the Lawton plant. Fortney said that today, 100 percent of the current maintenance technicians at the Lawton plant have been trained by Great Plains.
“We have that responsibility to those businesses in the Lawton-Fort Sill area,” he said. “It’s part of being responsible to their needs. And, we’re proud to be able to do that.”
Fortney has a little different perspective on his school’s history than have past superintendents. Fortney is a product of Great Plains, attending the school as a welding student from 1975-1977, later returning to campus to be a welding teacher, then managing various departments before moving into the superintendent’s seat.
“I hope it gives me a little different perspective,” he said, adding he also relies on the expertise of his staff as they work to stay abreast of community needs.
That’s part of what will be on display Friday, through programs ranging from surgical technology and nursing to IT programs that include cyber security and 3-D animation. In a nod to the school’s roots, visitors can tour the house that Great Plains’ building trades students are creating from the ground up, an on-the-job training experience for almost every aspect of construction.
Great Plains’ Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow displays also will help visitors track the technological changes that have affected even the most traditional of classes, such as the driver assist programs available for automotive students. Some of Great Plains’ partners also will participate, to include Goodyear’s tire display in Building 600.
“The relationship is like a good marriage,” Fortney said. “We’re very proud that the tech center is Goodyear’s primary choice for maintenance tech training.”
NASA has lent Great Plains items from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, such as astronaut uniforms and space dioramas. That will balance with a nod to the traditional past, as local car clubs display vehicles outside Building 400’s automotive area.
The new Business Development Center will be open to show what it does to foster small business development through more than 10 clients who use the center’s offerings (which include a commercial kitchen and office space for start-up businesses). Also on display will be the culinary arts complex, which opened in Building 100 this school year after two years of renovation; and public safety programs housed in Building 900.
The celebration begins at 3 p.m. with an opening by U.S. Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole, who holds the same Congressional seat the late Tom Steed held when he officially opened Great Plains on Sept. 18, 1971. Fortney said it was important to have Cole mark the occasion 50 years after Steed helped open the campus.
The open house will conclude with a concert by the U.S. Army 77th Band, beginning at 6 p.m. on the north lawn of Building 100 along West Lee Boulevard. The free concert will feature rock songs from the past 50 years.