The Machine Tool Building at the back of Linn-Benton Community College used to be dark. On Tuesday morning, college administration, staff, local business representatives and community members came together to bring it to the forefront and turn on the lights.
The newly renovated career technical education facility is part of a $20 million project funded through a local bond and government and industry partners. The college’s mechatronics, welding and fabrication and nondestructive testing facilities all saw improvements and are expected to be complete within the next two weeks.
On Tuesday, LBCC President Greg Hamann welcomed industry leaders to tour the facility prior to the ribbon-cutting and used the opportunity to introduce a new partnership aimed at providing students with additional resources.
LBCC signed a memorandum of understanding with FESTO Didactic — a German-based automation company — that will allow students to interact with the most recent technology and provide up-to-date curriculum as part of a collaboration between FESTO and LBCC staff.
When FESTO Didactic CEO Thomas Lichtenberger walked into the new mechatronics facility on Tuesday, he said he had one thought: “Wow, this is really something.”
He said the company hoped to have access to future employees trained at LBCC and that he was impressed by the partnership between local businesses and the college.
ATI Human Resources Manager Stephanie O’Connor attended Tuesday’s event and said it reminded her of what inspired her to get into human resources.
“We believe we have an ethical and moral obligation to educate the next generation within the community,” she said. “To be able to give students a chance to grow the community and improve the economic development of the area is really important.”
Marc Christman, Selmet vice president, said his company would also benefit from training students and investing in their education.
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“The industry is growing like crazy,” he said noting that within the next two years, Selmet would have to make 2 million components for aircraft.
“We have the facilities,” he said. “We need one more thing— talented young people with the skills we need.”
Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa said the community and college came together to do just that — provide skilled workers to help grow local industry. She also said that while local businesses were supportive, there was some question in the community as to whether LBCC had made the right choice by focusing on CTE programs.
“We knew it was going to be an investment in our future,” she said of the building upgrades. “There was a lot of chatter in the community on whether this was the right project, if this is what LBCC should be focused on and, boy, did they make the right choice.”
Hamann said the construction of the buildings not only brought the college closer to local businesses but erased a divide on the LBCC campus. In introducing a sculpture designed by a former LBCC student, Bryce Smith, and constructed by welding students, Hamann said the CTE upgrade upgraded the entire college.
“This sculpture represents something special and really captured what we tried to do with this project,” he said. “We tried to take what was the back of the campus and make it another front. It brings two parts of campus together. I say I hope every welding student knows how to write a poem and every sociology student can work on their own car.”
Smith said her design was inspired by her time at LBCC.
“It was marked with big steps of confidence,” she said. “It was a time I could step into learning. This piece represents that to me and I hope as it sits here outside this building, it reminds other students.”