By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Addison County’s student mechanics will step into a bona fide 21st century classroom this week when they begin courses at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center’s (PHCC) new, 20,000-square-foot “North Campus” building off Mainelli Road in Middlebury.
The $3.7 million facility features two cavernous garages, one each for the PHCC’s automotive and diesel technology programs. Voters in the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Addison Northwest supervisory union communities in 2005 endorsed a bond issue to finance the building, which was undergoing some final construction tweaks last Thursday.
“I think we have an incredibly functional building,” said PHCC Director Lynn Coale, during a tour of the steel-framed structure erected by Bread Loaf Corp. “We have the most beautiful classrooms I’ve been in, in my life.”
The two spacious classrooms, located at the center of the facility, are wired for high-speed Internet, and students will be able to communicate instantly with the PHCC headquarters on Charles Avenue. With the diesel and automotive technology programs now on Mainelli Road, the Charles Avenue campus now has more space for other PHCC programs.
A central dining/chat area; four unisex bathrooms; four locker rooms; assistant director’s office; and a room for support staff round out the amenities in the middle tier of the new North Campus building.
That middle tier is flanked on each side by the real calling cards of the new PHCC facility — state-of-the-art garages where students will have ample space and new technology to learn how to diagnose and fix problems with today’s cars and diesel engines.
Each garage — or “lab,” as Coale refers to them — features a 40-foot-high ceiling.
The three-bay diesel lab is endowed with a massive “bridge crane.” The bridge crane is a huge, steel beam located near the ceiling rafters of the diesel lab. A controller moves the crane along rails near the ceiling, positioning its hook onto heavy pieces of equipment (weighing up to five tons) on the ground below. The crane will allow students to move massive diesel engines and other large items throughout the lab.
Ventilators and exhaust fans will ensure that noxious fumes are quickly whisked away from work areas.
“Our old diesel shop would’ve fit into one-third of this space,” Coale marveled, as he surveyed the lab from an elevated, concrete mezzanine area. A full-sized tractor trailer rig will fit comfortably inside the lab.
Using laptop computers and special electronic diagnostic equipment, students will be able to learn how to troubleshoot problems in vehicles that nowadays are filled with computer chips.
Some of those vehicles and the expertise to fix them will be passed on by local businesses, including Addison County car dealerships, with whom the PHCC has partnered. Graduating students may find themselves employed with local auto/diesel-related companies. Coale noted that with the new emphasis on alternative fuels, diesel and biodielsel technology is an industry that is already clamoring for additional workers.
Walking into the automotive lab, Coale gestured to six bays, organized in a manner that will allow students to move vehicles in and out of the facility without backing up. Work benches will soon line the walls.
“I’m really pleased,” Coale said, beaming.
Though just opening, the facility has already helped create an enrollment surge in the PHCC automotive and diesel programs, according to Coale. The PHCC anticipates serving 65 students this year in its diesel and automotive technology programs. That number represents a jump of about 40 percent in new students, school officials said.
Coale noted the North Campus could be expanded and refined, if needed, to meet the original specifications for the project. Since bids came in higher than anticipated on the original North Campus plan (in part, due to the state’s requirement that the facility be fully served by sprinklers), PHCC officials ended up shrinking the building proposal by one bay on each end. A classroom and conference area on the second floor were also left unfinished to keep costs within budget.
Still, Coale is very pleased with how things turned out.
“It’s a very large, functional and efficient building, and it’s under $4 million,” Coale said, noting the structure’s lighting and insulation systems are in line with Efficiency Vermont recommendations.
Coale is so pleased with the building that he hopes it can be used beyond the conventional school day. To that end, he’s applied for a state grant to create a new program through which participants could build cars from scratch. The program would be marketed to locals who never got their high school diplomas.
“We’d like to have them dropping in,” Coale said.
Gov. James Douglas is scheduled to preside at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the North Campus building at 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 8.