Standing in an empty gray room on the third floor of downtown Amarillo’s latest gem, a visitor can see two separate visions taking shape.
The first is obvious.
In a little more than three months, the gray room at West Texas A&M University Amarillo Center will be transformed into a resource room for students studying techniques for teaching children with learning disabilities. The room’s expansive windows will shed light on a brighter future for soon-to-be teachers, educationally challenged children and hurting parents.
With the help of Center City of Amarillo, that process will happen a little more smoothly.
Wednesday morning, the nonprofit organization presented a $20,000 check to WTAMU President Walter Wendler. As the wind picked up and blew the oversized, ceremonial, cardboard check, Wendler said, “We’re not going to let this check go.”
That brought chuckles from many in the crowd of nearly 150 community leaders who had gathered at the old Chase drive-up bank parking lot.
“I can tell you that West Texas A&M University is proud to be a resident in Amarillo, Texas,” said Wendler, standing with the WTAMU Amarillo Center in the background. “I am thankful to all of those who helped make this happen. It has been a long process.”
After Wiley Hicks Jr. General Contractors puts the finishing touches on the building at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Tyler Street in mid-August, classes will begin in September.
“We are proud to be downtown,” Wendler said, “and what we are going to start in downtown will soon grow. I hope that in a few years there will be hundreds of students that study at the Amarillo Center and dozens of faculty and staff.”
Amy Andersen, Associate Provost of Academic Affairs at WT, said the new facility will house both graduate-level and undergraduate classes. Some of those departments will be social work, psychology, special education, communication disorder and the small-business development center. There also will be night classes and summer classes.
“West Texas A&M University is connected to Amarillo just as much as we are connected to the city of Canyon,” Wendler said. “And we are all a part of the top 26 counties in Texas.”
West Texas A&M University was founded in Canyon in 1909. The 31st Texas Legislature authorized the establishment of a state normal school for the education of teachers located somewhere “west of the ninety-eighth meridian,” according to WT’s website. Canyon was one of 25 west Texas cities and towns who competed to secure the educational institution. When the decision was made on Sept. 9, 1909, to award Canyon the school the city’s population was about 1,400.
WTAMU opened its Amarillo Center in 2008 on three floors of the Chase Tower, and “we were so proud to have that learning center come downtown,” said Beth Duke, the executive director of Center City. “At that time our dream was to have a free-standing building for the Amarillo Center and that dream is taking shape today (Wednesday).”
“When the city commission approved the Downtown Strategic Action Plain in 2008, we said we wanted downtown to be a place where people could live, work, play, learn and worship,” Duke said Wednesday. “We believe it took all five of those components to make downtown a full, healthy neighborhood. And today, we take one of the next steps with this new West Texas A&M University Amarillo Center.”
The new center is the old Fedway Department Store. Duke, a life-long Amarilloan, said she remembers shopping with her mother and then later picking out her wedding dishes there. The Fedway had the city’s first escalator.
The Fedway gave way to the Commerce Building, where it was turned into an office building. It had a fountain in the atrium and had a restaurant, where you could get lunch or wait out a storm.
“It’s a great old building,” Duke said. “It’s a great thing to have it come back to life.”
“They don’t build them like this anymore,” said James P. Hicks, the president of Wiley Hicks Jr. General Contractors.
Duke also wanted to give credit to Lavin Architects, which designed the new center.
“It looks important,” she said, “and it fits the style with the main buildings down in Canyon.”
“We are so excited that education is going on here in downtown Amarillo,” Davis said.
Duke added, “It provides students options to complete their course of study in downtown Amarillo, and it demonstrates a commitment to a bigger presence of WTAMU in Amarillo.”