Blackhawk Tech sees a role in expanding economy
The last expansion
Talk of expanding Blackhawk Technical College raises the question, didn't we just do that? Here's what happened with the last referendum, according to district officials and Gazette records:
The vote: 60 percent of voters in Green and Rock counties said yes in November 2002.
The cost: $17.5 million borrowed through a bond issue in 2003.
The work: Expansions of the central and Monroe campuses. The central campus main building expanded by 89,314 square feet, a 40 percent increase. Another 37,488 square feet was renovated. Work was completed in 2005. The central campus main building now is listed at 312,000 square feet.
The payoff: Taxpayers still have $7.68 million in priniciple and interest to pay off. Final payment is expected in 2018.
ROCK TOWNSHIP The local economy will rebound, expand and prosper.
To make that happen, it will need a place where workers can improve their skills for 21st century needs.
That's the feeling at the top echelons of Blackhawk Technical College, which has a new master plan that calls for greatly expanding the school.
"We have faith in the economic growth of this region," BTC President Tom Eckert said in a recent interview.
Blackhawk Technical College's last expansion ended seven years ago with the completion of $17.5 million in referendum projects at the main campus in central Rock County and in Monroe.
Since then, BTC has added its Beloit Center at the Eclipse Center, recently increasing its classroom space there.
But needs have grown and are expected to continue to do so, Eckert said.
"We envision getting bigger and serving more people," he said.
The referendum project left room for about 3,000 full- and part-time students, Eckert said. But that was before General Motors and related employers closed their doors and the national economy took a nosedive.
Enrollment increased 54 percent as workers tried to reinvent themselves, Eckert said, and even though the economy seems to be strengthening, enrollments have dropped only slightly.
Computers, health sciences, even the culinary department are crowded, Eckert said. The Monroe campus is at capacity. Prospective students are being told there's no more room.
"When you have no place to put anybody, you have to address it," Eckert said.
BTC officials and Strang Inc. of Madison have been working on the master plan for about two years.
Strang's research included an assessment of buildings and grounds, collection of data on how and when rooms are used, interviews with staff and students and alignment of the plan to the college's strategic goals, said Renea Ranguette, BTC's vice president for finance and operations.
Strang, which was paid was paid $123,410 for the work, also wrote a five-year maintenance plan that covers projects such as replacement of roofs, parking lots, windows and various parts of the heating/cooling system.
One of the recurring themes Strang heard from staff in all divisions was a lack of general-purpose classrooms, Ranguette said.
Classroom space is at a premium, even though classes are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends.
Other areas for expansion the study identified by talking to staff and students:
-- More large, tiered lecture halls, especially for general-education classes.
-- More spaces for staff and students to collaborate. The ability to work in teams is said to be a key skill employers want.
-- More conference/meeting rooms for the college's frequent guests.
-- More dual-purpose rooms—for example, a room with traditional seating along with computer stations.
-- More lab space for health services classes with an increasing emphasis on simulating what goes on in hospitals and clinics. Health professions continue to be one of the highest-demand areas at BTC.
-- More interactive training spaces for police and firefighter training.
-- The library is small but used intensively. More wireless Internet access and small rooms for study groups are needed, Ranguette said.
-- More space for the information technology division.
-- Students are more active at BTC than at a typical commuter, two-year campus, so more student-activities space is desired.
-- Student services wants a tutoring/testing center.
The five-phase plan is a big-picture look at future needs. It does not include details such as floor plans or costs, Eckert said. Rather, it sets a tone and direction.
Here's breakdown of the plan:
Description: Build an advanced manufacturing center by remodeling 130,000 square feet in the Beloit Ironworks building, now owned by Hendricks Commercial Properties, in downtown Beloit. Move classes there from the main campus, freeing up 30,000 square feet to remodel at the central-campus building. Demolish two pole buildings—18,000 square feet—attached to the rear of the central-campus building.
Timeframe: Advanced manufacturing center work could begin before the end of this year or sometime in 2013, officials said. Students would begin taking classes there in late 2013 or sometime in 2014.
Description: Build a 56,000-square-foot health sciences building facing what is now the main entrance on the central campus. The multi-story building also would house a library. The building would simulate a hospital to make learning as realistic as possible. Once the building is complete, classes would move in, freeing up 36,000 square feet in the main building for remodeling.
Timeframe: About five years from now, although projections are uncertain this far into the future. This phase likely would require borrowing through a referendum-authorized bond issue.
Description: A 32,000-square-foot addition on the west side of the central-campus main building and a 4,000-square-foot addition to the administrative center. At about the same time, the Monroe campus would be expanded, with the oldest part of the building to be demolished, leaving 15,000 square feet built in 2005, and 54,000 square feet would be added.
Monroe would have new space for health sciences and advanced manufacturing.
Timeframe: About 10 years out.
Description: Two 70,000-square-foot buildings, built to the west and downhill from the current main campus, with no purpose specified at this time. An outdoor amphitheater between the two buildings would be dedicated to student activities. These and the buildings in Phase 5 would ensure capacity for expansion. Parking would be added along with the buildings.
Timeframe: About 20 years.
Description: Two 70,000-square-foot buildings built farther to the west.
Timeline: 50 to 70 years.
The plan assumes no more expansions at BTC's Center for Transportation Studies on Janesville's north side, the BTC Center at Beloit's Eclipse Center, which recently was doubled in size, or at the aviation center at the airport.
The aviation mechanics program recently was suspended as a cost-saving measure.
The plan also assumes that a new advanced manufacturing center would be built in Beloit and that the noncredit training and customized courses that BTC sets up for local businesses would move from the central campus to a building close to some of its customers, perhaps in an industrial park.
Manufacturing center would be based in Beloit
Blackhawk Technical College plans to build one of the country's best training facilities for manufacturing workers.
The advanced manufacturing center, as it is being called, would be in the old Beloit Corp. building now known as the Ironworks along the Rock River in downtown Beloit. Construction could start as early as later this year.
The plan is based on the belief that manufacturing will continue to be a big part of this area's economy but that workers will need to be more highly skilled.
The ability to deliver a skilled workforce to local companies will be crucial, BTC President Tom Eckert said.
Renovations to make the 130,000-square-foot Beloit facility a reality could cost upwards of $10 million, Eckert guessed, but don't expect Blackhawk to ask taxpayers to finance the work through a referendum.
Eckert has been discussing a public-private partnership to get the job done, which means large, private donations and grants.
Eckert said he is working with the Ironworks owner, Hendricks Development, to get an affordable lease.
Eckert said he planned to meet with Hendricks officials at the end of this month to work on fundraising.
The advanced manufacturing center would be state of the art and feature large windows into the hands-on classrooms to combat the perception that manufacturing is a mindless, dirty job, Eckert said.
The center would allow BTC to double the capacity of its welding program, Eckert said. Welders are expected to be in high demand for some time. Fabrication welding courses would be added to the curriculum.
The center also would house programs in precision machining; heating, air conditioning and ventilation; electro-mechanical/robotics; and industrial maintenance.
The facility would be built like a wheel, with various skill areas being taught in the spokes. The hub would contain a laboratory where students from the various disciplines would join to build manufacturing processes from the ground up.
The lab also could be used to develop small-scale manufacturing prototypes for local companies looking to produce new products.