By Rodney Welch
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
For over a decade, Midlands Technical College has been faced with a serious challenge for an institution dedicated to providing workplace-ready students for new and existing industries.
The college had to be cutting-edge to remain competitive, but it also had to make do with aging facilities at its Beltline campus.
“We got by for decades by just being clever,” says Clint Chandler, who heads MTC’s Engineering Department. “A little ingenuity, and we managed to do things that the building was never designed to do. Even doing that, you eventually reach an upper limit where you’ve got to have something better.”
As of last Friday, MTC received a serious upgrade when state and local officials cut the ribbon on the new Engineering Technology and Sciences Building at MTC’s Northeast campus. The $28.1 million, four-story, 82,000-square-foot building boasts state-of-the-art classrooms and lab facilities.
“From the careful planning of lighting and space, to the ultra-modern lab equipment, to the sustainable building design, this building is an excellent example of what a high-tech educational facility should be,” says Geralyne López-de-Victoria, chair of MTC’s Science Department, in a statement.
“It’s an adaptable facility,” Chandler says. “We can retrofit a lab, repurpose a classroom and all of that without tearing out walls and without rebuilding a building.”
More importantly, Chandler says, it can meet the needs of new industry.
“When a new business in town — or an old business, for that matter — says ‘We want to do something new and innovative, and we want you to train people in that area,’ all we’ve got to do is reorganize, regroup and set up the facilities to handle that particular demand. In the old days, we couldn’t do that — and the old days were six months ago.”
Chandler also pointed out that the new building has a large laboratory dedicated to teaching nuclear systems technology and a smaller nuclear laboratory where students are taught about handling radioactive sources.
Rick Hurst, MTC’s program coordinator for mechanical engineering and electrical engineering technology, proudly displayed this spacious classroom to visitors at the Friday ceremony.
“This room is dedicated as our nuclear lab,” he said. “We did not have such a thing over at Beltline campus. This is strictly for our nuclear equipment and learning.”
Hurst demonstrated use of a Geiger counter to visitors, and showed how harmless materials used in the classroom are treated and regularly secured as if they are deadly.
“I want responsible people of integrity and safety management running my nuclear plant around me,” he said. “I would think we all would.”
For MTC President Marshall “Sonny” White Jr., the new building is all about jobs.
“In central South Carolina, there are a projected 20,000 job openings over the next five years, and most of those job openings will be in Alternate Energy, Health Care, Advanced Manufacturing and Information Technology,” he said in a press release. “This new facility offers a significant step toward filling job openings in those areas, especially Alternate Energy and Advanced Manufacturing.”
Chandler also cites hydrothermal and wind power, as well as chemical technology.
“It’s been in this area for over a hundred years,” Chandler says. “It’s a big deal. It’s part of what a lot of industries do, but Midlands Tech has never addressed it in a significant way, because the facilities necessary to do that are complicated. We have that now, and all of these businesses that have some chemical-related element to their program, we can now address that and we can train people for them like we can train people for everyone else.”
New jobs demanding advanced training — whether at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in Jenkinsville or Nephron Pharmaceuticals in Lexington — are already here, and many more could be on the way.
“We have one fledgling fuel cell company in the area right now,” Chandler says, “and, who knows, that may mushroom into something really big eventually. But, you take those, you couple that with the traditional technologies that already exist and probably will always exist, and the demand for what we’ve got here is enormous.”