Elizabethtown Community and Technical College President and CEO Dr. Juston Pate is making a big ask of the 2022 legislature.
As part of its budget, Pate is hoping for an investment in the college to renovate the Occupational Technical Building, the second oldest building on campus.
“It’s not a want,” he said. “Everyone misconstrues these requests as we want a new building. No. We’re trying to do 21st Century advanced manufacturing training in a facility that was built in 1965. This is a need, if ever there was one.”
Built in 1965, Pate said the building is not allowing the college to keep pace with training required for modern-day technology training, especially with all the advanced manufacturing opportunities current and to come in the region.
“It just represents where we’re going as a college and as a region to think about and scope a building that will reflect the state of current manufacturing but it will also help fill the needs of current manufacturing,” he said.
With the college in the planning phase with architect renderings, the project is expected to cost $37.5 million with spending split between two bienniums over two construction phases, Pate said.
Work so far has consisted of identifying needs, what spaces will look like and how to change the nature of the building when it was built for training that no longer exists at the college, Pate said.
“It’s been a challenge to try to make this brand new shiny round peg fit into an old rusty square hole,” he said.
Some of those needs are obvious and are being patched, such as workers repairing the roof Wednesday, but those problems just scratch the surface said electrical technology professor Tim Cordova.
“We’ve got brick and mortar that’s cracking,” he said. “Here we are trying to sell our program as the latest and greatest — and these robots are … — but when we try to recruit …” he said, as he gestured to the drab brown classroom, as to indicate that’s what students see.
In order to turn out a workforce ready for new technology at plants such as Blue Oval SK — the twin Ford battery plants coming to Glendale — or Nucor coming to Brandenburg, Cordova said improvements are needed.
“We need the infrastructure,” he said, pointing to a standard size door in the room. “One of the things with our classrooms is a lot of times we’ll have a robot … but how do you get stuff in that door?”
Needs include garage doors in classrooms to move large equipment in and out, proper electric drops — Cordova said professors built an overhead bus in a classroom — and more internet port, adding to update software on some of the machines they have to move them to another classroom with an internet port.
“We try to make the best that we can,” he said, adding teachers painted some of the classrooms. “There’s only so much polishing you can do.”
What teachers need is versatility, Cordova said.
“If I wanted to teach this class, say I want to move it over into another classroom, I don’t have the bus, I don’t have the electrical requirements for it,” he said. “So we’re lacking the versatility to being able to teach a variety of different technologies because we’re limited with our power and door openings alone. We are really limited and constrained.”
Welding technology professor Jared Spalding said space is a major constraint from keeping the workforce pipeline supplied.
“This particular class I’m teaching right now is good for welding students, maintenance students and electrical students,” he said, adding two sections are being taught during the day, that are full. “If we had more room and more booths, we could have another class.”
Although the college could expand and offer another class, space prevents it, Spalding said.
“It would be easy to fill up another class,” he said.
Spalding also said the classroom is in need of a better ventilation system.
“It’s been getting us by, so it’s not that it’s unsafe, it just needs to be updated,” he said.
In the winter, temperature control in the classroom is an issue because the heating system can’t keep the room warm, Spalding said.
The classroom also isn’t equipped with enough electrical outlets and could use a separate space for ginders to help control dust and noise, Spalding said.
“Believe it or not, there’s not that many plugs to run a grinder,” he said, adding they have to use extension cords to power some machines.
Computerized manufacturing and machining professor Rob Lowe said his program has run out of space.
“We have no more room for any kind of equipment,” he said, adding their computer lab is lacking space for more monitors and needs more internet ports and electrical drops.
The classroom also is ill-equipped when it comes to industry standards, Lowe said.
It needs an overhead crane to safely move steel bar stock and more computer numerical control equipment.
“If you go out to the industries, they’ve got stuff that we just dream about as far as equipment, capabilities and what they’re doing,” he said. “We’re basically just teaching a lot of basic stuff.
“We could be teaching more modern machining practices with the addition of more room and newer equipment,” he added.
Pate also said some classrooms lack the necessary overhead clearance for some operations students will see with employers and “walls may be in the wrong places.”
He pointed to the auto diesel program that doesn’t have the indoor space to work on a semi-truck, let alone a tractor trailer.
“Still they’re the fourth ranked auto diesel program in the nation,” Pate said. “The people are overcoming. The training is there, but we could do it at a much greater capacity if the facility matched the people.”
The building also is a deterrent in recruiting, Pate said, saying the “dark, dirty and outdated” building hardly matched what people envision when they hear advanced manufacturing.
Cordova is hopeful legislators will find funding in the budget, and he looks forward to the day the college can better meet the needs of students and employers.
“I know that this president, he’s going to involve us, all of his programs, in that discussion when the time comes” for construction, he said. “I’m really excited about it. I think when our turn comes, I think we’ll have something pretty special.”
Pate said he is appreciative of the legislature being receptive to the conversation about higher education and its importance to a capable workforce for the state.
“I so greatly appreciate all the conversations that have taken place regarding not just investments in higher education and (the Kentucky Community and Technical College System) and ECTC but the true bipartisan conversations we have had about where we as a commonwealth need to be in order to support this investment and future investments still to come,” he said.
Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1418 or gclear @thenewsenterprise.com.