LEWISTON, Idaho – At first glance, the inside of the new Lewis-Clark State College Schweitzer Career & Technical Education Center building appears far from finished.
Ceilings are open, exposing the ductwork in several rooms. Computer cables, boxes and wiring are visible throughout rooms. The list goes on.
The key, as the old saying goes, is that there is more than meets the eye with this 86,000-square foot structure that will serve the needs of both students and industry in the region. The inside of the building was designed with many things exposed on purpose so it can be used as a living textbook, allowing students to both see how things operate and how to work on them.
The college will give the public its first glance inside the building on Oct. 23 when it hosts a ribbon cutting ceremony 9 a.m., followed by guided tours at 10 a.m. College COVID-19 protocols will be followed, which mandates face coverings be worn during the tours and when social distancing can’t be maintained outside.
“It would be one thing to build a building like this and put English or history majors in it because it wouldn’t make a huge difference to them,” said Jeff Ober, CTE Dean at LC State. “But we are exposing HVAC systems and how the building was built and engineered, and we are going to have those students in there. These students are learning about trades that are going to be right there in front of them.”
The Schweitzer CTE Center, located in the Lewiston Orchards at 2947 Cecil Andrus Way, will officially open for the 2021 spring semester on Jan. 19 and will be the new home for seven Technical & Industrial Division programs. Those programs include auto mechanics technology, CNC machining technology, information technology, engineering technology, industrial electronics technology, industrial maintenance and millwright technology, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC-R) technology.
Construction on the project began on April 19, 2019, but the design work began almost two years earlier. LC State officials spent that time looking at recently built CTE facilities around Idaho and Spokane, surveyed local businesses, community members, faculty and students about needs, and then worked with architects to design a building where students could learn and then practice what they learn.
“A lot of folks might look at the beauty of a building as a nicely painted wall with art,” said Mark Smith, chair of the LC State Technical & Industrial Division. “For most of our students, they view the working components and how all that stuff is tied together and flowing as a different kind of art. That’s the good thing about this building. It’s a technical building for our technical programs and is built for that person.”
Smith said, for example, students in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) program will have their classroom right across the hall from the building’s main central system. That design gives the students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom in the morning to working on the system in the afternoon.
Other programs are set up the same way. Information Technology students will be able to work on cables, boxes and see whether something is a power source or a communication source and work with both. IT students will also have their own intranet system to use and work on, focusing in the areas of cybersecurity and hacking.
The auto mechanics transmission lab features a work area with computers so students can watch a PowerPoint or video training while they are working on a piece of equipment.
The goal is to help students gain necessary experience in their fields so they will need minimal to no training once hired.
Ober said college officials worked with local industry leaders to update some of the curriculum and advise on what new equipment should be purchased.
“All of the programs talked with industry leaders about the latest trends, what are the needs, and what do we have to have,” Ober said. “We want our students not only trained in the basics, but trained so they can go to work the first day they are hired. We are not teaching ‘here’s the theory and here’s the idea, now go work for somebody and they will teach you the rest of it.’ We are teaching them the rest of it so students can walk into a job and help out immediately.”
The Schweitzer CTE Center also allows each program to expand for more students because of the extra space. Both Ober and Smith stress the importance of being able to grow programs to meet the demands of area employers.
“All the trades that are going up there have a tremendous need and high employment rates,” Ober said. “I know with HVAC-R and the industry in this area, we can’t train enough students to meet all the needs. We are trying. The building was designed to be able to double the capacity of all programs.”
Smith said the new building is sort of like opening Christmas presents.
“I think the faculty are very excited,” he said. “I think they will realize as the semester goes along that ‘hey, we can teach this because now we have this item or that item there where we didn’t have it before.’ I know they are very much looking forward to it.”
For the three programs remaining on the main LC State campus – collision repair, diesel technology and welding – they also will expand with the extra room in the Mechanical Technical Building and Wittman Complex on the main campus.
“The diesel program is always one of our most popular programs, but we are limited by the size of the space there,” Smith said. “Now we have plans for them to expand into the old HVAC-R area. They will end up with a couple of extra labs that will be set up year around. We won’t have to spend time at the beginning and end of each semester taking equipment to and from storage to make space. We will have the space.”
Smith said the collision repair program will upgrade a couple of the prep decks with needed new equipment, and the welding program will also add several new pieces of equipment.
The college’s millwright program will use both buildings. The two-year program will have welding on the main campus and CNC machining at the new site.
The challenge now, Ober says, is just coordinating the move of some equipment and offices from the main campus to the new building.
“The IT group, for example, has more than 100 computers they use and that’s a special challenge,” Ober said. “You can’t just put them in the back of a pickup truck and drive up the hill. There are cables and so many components. The move is definitely the biggest challenge we have right now and we’re working hard to coordinate it all.
“But it’s a good problem to have. We’re really excited to be opening this building and helping both students and local industry.”