Centralia College Foundation Receives $1.3M TransAlta Grant For New Trades Building

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The Centralia College Foundation announced this week that it will receive a $1.3 million grant from TransAlta to construct a new flexible trades building. The building will house training programs to meet industry needs, and is expected to be up and running fall 2020.

“This will be a prime example of the college and the foundation working together to get this building built and then also partner with the industrial and business community in order to support these programs and the equipment that we are going to need for this building,” said Christine Fossett, Centralia College Foundation executive director.

The Foundation will own the building, but work closely with Centralia College on the project. Steve Ward, vice president for finance and administration at Centralia College, said he expects to have students in the building for classes in fall 2020. Fossett said that means construction would begin this summer.

“The Centralia College Foundation is very appreciative of the investment in the education of our students at Centralia College,” said Peter Abbarno, President of the Centralia College Foundation. “The Centralia College Foundation is committed to providing opportunities for students to achieve their academic and career goals.  The Flexible Trades Building will provide a wide-range of possibilities to train skilled workers to compete in the local and global economies. We are excited to be at the forefront of expanding technical and vocational training opportunities in our community.”

The grant is to construct a 12,000 square foot facility on the Centralia College campus. The Foundation and College are considering building the new facility near the technology building.

“We don’t have the exact layout of the building,” said Centralia College President Robert Mohrbacher. “I think the important thing is that a lot of the space will remain flexible. So say two-thirds of the building will be flexible space and we will move equipment in and out as we are doing training for specific industries or short-term programs, or things like that. About a third of it will be some built-in things that always stay in there.”

The grant is specifically for the facility, but the Foundation and the College plan to secure additional funding for equipment. Ward said he expects the building to cost as much as $1.6 million. Ward said the College wants to prepare for large companies that come to the area and need local labor.

“We have prospective employers that like to come in and they want to see a training space,” Ward said. “We don’t know what those jobs and what that training is going to be. So we need to have a very flexible space where we can very quickly convert to training for potential employers that want to locate to the area. With the growth of the ports in the area and the development of IPAT (Industrial Park At TransAlta), in particular, we think that that is something we need to be prepared to do as they bring in these large companies that need to ramp up their labor real fast.”

Jake Fay is the Centralia College dean of instruction for healthcare and industrial trades. He works with local industry partners and the high schools to create career pathways for Centralia College students. Fay works with all the high schools in Lewis County, a couple in Pacific County and a couple in Thurston County on articulation agreements. He said the building will be for “new ventures.”

“We have been working with the local timber industry quite a bit, the mills,” Fay said. “They would like to see some sort of industrial maintenance type program that supplies them with what we would call millwrights. That’s probably one of the big ones. The other part of it is dealing with, or working with, the labor unions — so trying to create apprenticeship pipelines that are coming out of the high school systems.”

The TransAlta Centralia Coal Plant is moving away from coal by 2025. One unit is set to shut down in December 2020, and another in December 2025. Through its Coal Transition Boards, TransAlta is investing $55 million in Lewis and South Thurston Counties.

“A couple of the people in the community have found out about this and talked to me,” Ward said. “They keep emphasizing how needed this particular type of training and education is for our population. … There is a shortage of trained tradespeople out there.”

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