OTC Director of Public Relations Joel Doepker said the four- to five-week course will teach students how to drive tractor trailers, including classroom work and driver training in the parking lot, leading up to open on-the-road training.

"If you talk to transportation services in the area they will say there is a great demand for truck drivers," Doepker said. "You need to go to school to get certified to drive trucks."

Starting a truck driving program was a goal of OTC President Al Higdon's when he took the reigns of the college last July. His former college had a truck driving school and he wanted to implement the program in the Ozarks. In addition, Doepker said, local transportation companies asked OTC to look into the possibility of a school because they desperately need drivers.

"There are at least 7,000 long-haul truck driving positions in the Springfield area," said Steelman Transportation's Jim Towery, who is the director of the Springfield Area Motor Carriers Association. "All theses people need to be trained. Transportation is a huge part of our infrastructure and we need to qualify drivers to have save drivers on the road."

Towery also said that the average trucker makes $40,000 to $60,000 a year. He said the jobs pay very well in Greene and surrounding counties, compared to some factory jobs. Towery said he and others plan to help with placement, as well.

"Every one of their drivers who's qualified will have placement," he said.

Other local trucking companies are not as open to new graduates, however. Joseph Allivato of Highlandville's Silkey Trucking, Inc. said the trucking school won't mean a lot to his company because their drivers must have at least three years' experience to qualify for their insurance plan.

"It will be good for the public and it's just more people that will be over the road, but first hand we won't feel any kind of benefit from it."

Towery said, however, that since the program will be using curriculum from the Professional Truck Driving Institute, drivers trained at OTC will be picked up quicker than someone who gets their Commercial Driver's License through a diploma program.

Not only will a truck driving school qualify residents for jobs and fill positions with local transportation companies, it will utilize the now vacant at Price Cutter Park. Brad Eldridge, who volunteers to manage the property, said he is very excited about the partnership.

"It's hopefully going to be a great situation for OTC with their new program and it should be a great utilization of the park this upcoming year," he said.

Eldridge said OTC contacted him about two months ago about using the park. He had to put some thought into the idea before making an agreement because he didn't want to hurt or hinder any of the other events that occur at the park each year. Last year, for example, the park was used for more than 120 bal lgames, as well as 30 to 40 special events in the parking lot and the stadium that were non-baseball related.

"OTC had gotten wind that we were doing things out there and that's when they contacted me," Eldridge said.

After analyzing the situation, Eldridge realized the partnership would make sense and he could accommodate the schedule.

"They're very willing to work with us when we do need an event in the stadium or a small part of the parking lot during those hours," Eldridge said, adding that OTC will not be utilizing the ball field.

"I'm very excited," Eldridge continued. "I have a ton of respect for OTC and how they've grown and what they've done with the new campus on (state Route) 14. This only helps solidify that relationship between OTC and Ozark."

OTC will not be the first to hold driver training at the Price Cutter Park parking lot. In the past, Eldridge said, the Springfield Police Department as well as Drury University's police training academy have used the lot for driver training.

"This will increase the exposure of the ball park being there and that it's still alive," Eldridge said. "I did not want to see that stadium die. It's an asset to the community. We're just trying to be creative with everything we can do out there."

The truck driving class will also be a benefit to Ozark, said City Administrator Collin Quigley.

"The program will bring in the students and the instructors for the class period time, so that's additional traffic through the city that might stop here and shop here," he said.

Doepker said he and other OTC administrators are enthusiastic that the school can begin in mid-February. Currently they are looking into hiring two full-time instructors. Local trucking companies have furnished trucks for the school to use, as well.

Doepker added that the school will average 12 students per session, with each students paying about $2,700 tuition. They will be required to pass a drug test, as well. OTC hopes to hold eight or nine sessions each year. Enrollment information is still underway, but Doepker said he expects a large response.

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