Milton site will host Blackhawk Tech welding expansion

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Frank Schultz
Friday, August 16, 2013

JANESVILLE--More welders with more skills should be the outcome of a commitment made by the Blackhawk Technical College Board this week.

The board approved a new stage of renovations at industrial buildings in Milton. The buildings will become the college's Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.

The work approved Thursday involves 23,341 square feet and is expected to cost $2.09 million.

The college now serves up to 60 welding students at a time at its central campus. The new welding facilities in Milton could serve up to 100 when completed by fall 2015, said Blackhawk Tech President Tom Eckert.

The new facility will be able to offer a two-year welding program. A one-year technical diploma is offered now.

The second year would include instruction in fabrication and the welding of specialized metals.

Eckert said the college has never before had space for a fabrication lab, with overhead cranes to handle large pieces of metal as well as metal presses and cutters that use water jets and lasers.

The new facilities will more closely simulate what students will see on the job, Eckert said.

“Local employer demand for skilled welders and student demand for admission to this program remain high, with no opportunity for increase capacity at the central campus site,” according to a memo prepared for the board meeting.

Welding is a high-demand skill, with 540 openings statewide projected between now and 2018, according to the memo.

Average salaries in this region range between $11.40 and $20.54 an hour, the memo states. The college's 2001-12 Graduate Follow-up Survey reported average starting pay of $15.50 an hour.

A private donor who was promised anonymity is paying $600,000 of the renovation costs, the board was told.

The donation was through the Blackhawk Technical College Foundation and therefore not subject to disclosure through the state's Open Records Law, Eckert told The Gazette.

The board's action needs approval of the state Technical College System Board, and Blackhawk's board will later be asked to approve borrowing $1.49 million for the project by issuing bonds.

In a related action, the board Thursday approved issuing bonds in the amount of $5.24 million. Most of that amount will pay for equipment upgrades at the college's existing campuses, but $1.24 million will pay for preparation work at the Milton buildings, the former home of ANGI Energy Systems, 15 N. Plumb St.

The preparation work, including removal of unneeded building materials, will begin “fairly soon,” Eckert said.

The board in April gave the go-ahead for Phase 1 of the renovations. Those will begin in November or December and provide instructional space for welding, precision machining and industrial maintenance, as well as administrative offices, Eckert said.

The 12,650-square-foot Phase 1 should be ready for use in the fall 2014 semester. As reported earlier, Phase 1 also includes an “enhancement” of the main entrance, a reception area, faculty offices, meeting spaces, a science lab, a library, student commons with vending machines and student lockers.

Eckert said it's too soon to know the number of students who would begin classes when the center opens for the fall of 2014. Much depends on how many register. An earlier estimate was that up to 300 students could attend the center in fall 2014.

The enhanced welding facilities that the board approved Thursday are called Phase 2.

Phase 2 also includes a metallurgy lab, storage, student- and faculty-support spaces and an elevator to provide access to classrooms and a student lounge, according to the memo.

J.P. Cullen & Sons of Janesville has been hired as the college's construction manager for this and future projects, Eckert said, but bidding has not begun to determine who will do the work in Milton.

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