SCC shows off new Industrial Tech center
KEOKUK – The public got its first look Tuesday at the new Industrial Technologies Training Center on the Southeastern Community College Keokuk campus.
The $4.2 million, 19,000-square-foot facility features state-of-the-art labs for mechanical and electrical technology training. It also contains a welding lab, computer lab, classroom, student spaces and a new campus maintenance garage.
SCC President Dr. Michael Ash reflected on the ground-breaking ceremony on a chilly, wet day in November 2014, a stark contrast with Tuesday’s festivities that were moved completely indoors due to temperatures in the nineties.
Ash emphasized that although the facility is new, it’s simply an improvement on a program that’s been in place at SCC’s Keokuk campus for many years.
SCC launched the Industrial Technology program about 10 years ago with a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that covered $1 million worth of equipment. However, the previous location was so cramped that equipment and furniture constantly had to be moved around.
Ash acknowledged various key players in the project, including DLR Group, architect; Meyers and James Construction, contractor; numerous subcontractors; the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Authority, which awarded a grant of more than $1 million; Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission for assistance with grantwriting; Gary Folluo of the Lee County Board of Supervisors; and college administration, faculty, staff and students.
Remarks were given by about a dozen college representatives, dignitaries and stakeholders.
Janet Fife-LaFrenz, who represents Keokuk on the SCC Board of Trustees, said the construction of the training center wouldn’t have been possible without the community’s support. She noted generous private donations as well as the passage of general obligation bonds that helped fund not only the industrial tech facility, but also the Health Professions, Hall of Sciences and dormitory on the West Burlington campus.
All four projects comprise SCC’s Building the Dream campus expansion initiative, the college’s largest infrastructure investment initiative since the early 1990s.
“Community colleges have been recognized as a needed economic engine, providing opportunities for skilled acquisition and social mobility,” Fife-LaFrenz said, adding that SCC plays an important role in supplying local industries with a knowledgeable workforce.
The Industrial Technology program is taught in segments, with students earning credentials as they complete individual components. Student progress goes from earning certificates in mechanical or electronics technologies to a one-year diploma to a two-year specialized associate of applied sciences degree. In addition to credit programs, a number of short-term, non-credit classes are offered throughout the year.
“The key to the success of the program is flexibility and customization for each student,” Fife-LaFrenz said.
Dr. Gene Gardner was president of SCC when a bond issue for expansion of the Keokuk campus passed in 1995.
“I believe this project started with the offering of a non-credit course in the late 1980s,” Gardner said. “Progress has been steadily made ... we gather here today to see a beautiful new, well-equipped educational facility.”
Shelley Oltmans, director of the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce, said SCC’s “investment in Keokuk will increase our ability to attract and expand regional industry and ... a highly-qualified, skilled workforce.”
“Southeastern Community College has heard and continues to meet the needs of the Keokuk community, regional industries and community members seeking more opportunity through training and education,” she said.
Susan Dunek spoke not only as SCC’s dean of career and technical education, but also as Keokuk’s mayor pro tem. Mayor Tom Marion was unable to attend the celebration.
“Twenty-plus years ago, I signed on for a four-hour, five-day-a-week gig that was supposed to last six weeks with some maintenance guys from Roquette,” Dunek said. “I never left.”
Dunek read a statement from Marion, who believes “the investment in Southeastern Community College will pay benefits to students and businesses in the surrounding area.”
State representatives Jerry Kearns, D-Keokuk, Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, and David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, expressed their enthusiasm over the completion of Keokuk’s new facility and its important role in workforce development.
“This particular building has a real spot in my heart, because I come out of industry and maintenance, as an electrician,” Kearns said. “I did some courses out here at one time ... Haven’t we come a long way?”
Heaton appreciates Ash and the board’s vision for moving SCC forward, and believes the Building the Dream campaign is “helping us build the dream for the State of Iowa.”
Kerr, who was hired 50 years ago by a natural gas pipeline company, said a lot has changed since he entered the workforce. The company had just one question for Kerr before giving him a job: “Can you make it to work on time?”
“This facility blows me away,” Kerr said. “I think that young people should come look at this facility. It might help them make up their minds about what they want to do out of high school.”
Dave Bogner, manufacturing excellence leader at Roquette, said SCC’s industrial maintenance offerings provide solid fundamentals and expertise in new technology.
“What we have here in this new center is an opportunity to combine those two things,” he said. “You can learn theory in the classroom, and then have hands-on training on the equipment people are actually going to be working on out in the field ... SCC is really building this whole foundation in the community, and this (facility) is a huge step in that direction. It demonstrates the commitment SCC has to the vision of a strong technical base in the community, to move us forward – not just today, but as technology grows, to grow with technology.”
Joe Steil, CEO of the Lee County Economic Development Group, said everyone from Ash and the board of trustees to local industries worked together to make the Industrial Technologies Training Center a reality.
“Representing economic development, I can attest to the fact that SCC is an absolutely great partner in economic development,” Steil said. “This facility is a huge step in our goal of providing a quality workforce for the future.”
Dr. Pradeep Kotamraju, bureau chief of CTE for the Iowa Department of Education, hopes the new training center will help Southeast Iowa retain many of its young people. He also is impressed with the planning that went into the project, and believes it should serve as a model of regional partnership.
SCC faculty member Dave Rector quoted Henry David Thoreau – “If you’ve built castles in the air, your work is not lost. That’s where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”
“SCC’s Building the Dream is a fulfillment of Thoreau’s comment,” Rector said. “We’ve placed a foundation under our dream, and concrete and steel has replaced concept and imagination. We are here today to recognize and thank the many, many people who have had a hand in building this facility.
“But this is not a day to exalt ourselves ... today, we celebrate opportunity ... for those who say yes to hard work, for those who want to make a good start or a new start. It’s for those who want something better.”
Tony Toops, a first-year student in the IMT program, said “it only took me 32 years to go to college, but I’m here.”
“I want to thank everybody that’s made this (building) possible,” Toops added. “Last semester, we were elbow to elbow. Now, we’ve got all kinds of room.”
Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, attendees were invited to tour the building and learn from students and faculty about the variety of equipment and amenities.