Welding expansion feeds effort feeding industries

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

RESERVE — Thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve will get a little bit of breathing room over the next year.

The college, with an annual enrollment of more than 1,400 students, will use the funds to build a 4,000 square foot welding facility with 40 indoor booths and an outdoor welding area. It will be built next to an already-under-construction wing, which will house the expanded process technology department of the school. That project is expected to be completed in early December.

Construction on the new welding facility is expected to get underway in January, with a move-in date sometime in the summer of 2017, according to Penelope Freeman, dean of the Reserve campus.

The additions, both being built on land donated by St. John the Baptist Parish, will allow the school to educate 354 additional students over the next several years.

“We are full,” Freeman said. “We already have classes from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day and on Saturdays. We are full.”

Earl Meador, the director of the college, said the school has been bursting at the seams over the past few years, adding the new grant will help alleviate that.

“We’ve had to cap all of our programs over the last couple of years,” Meador said. “With the new building, we’re going to have some room. Our welding program has been capped the last couple of years. We had 15 booths. Well, we’re going to have 40 now.”

Calling it an “investment” in the future of St. John the Baptist Parish and the surrounding region, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Jay Williams announced the awarding of the grant during a program held Thursday at campus.

Williams explained that his job is not just about handing out money.

“This is a competitive process,” he said. “You have to put forward a proposal, a project that stands on its own merit, that competes with other projects.”

South Central Technical College’s proposal stood out above many of the hundreds of proposals submitted from across the region, Williams said, congratulating the collaborative effort put forth by area leaders.

The college also was touted for its “high returns” on investments by David Helveston, the college’s chief financial officer.

Of the 13 community and technical colleges in the state, Halveston said, the graduates of the Reserve college have the highest average salary.

“It makes sense because of all the plants we have around here,” Freeman said.

Once completed, the additions to the campus are expected to increase the number of skilled laborers available to enter the local workforce.

“This is about jobs,” Parish President Natalie Robottom said. “We are committed to this facility. We know it’s a hidden gem, but we want our residents to take advantage of it. We want to prepare our residents for the jobs that we know are coming. We fully understand, for the industry that is in the room, you need a qualified work force. We’re taking it upon ourselves to make sure that the workforce that is in St. John the Baptist Parish is qualified.”