Under construction: UACCM eyes finish of new training center

Story and photos
by Sonja J. Keith

Work is nearing completion on the new Workforce Training Center at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. 

A groundbreaking ceremony was held last May for the facility, which officials have said will serve as a hub for technical training and workforce development in Central Arkansas. 

“We have been providing modern, up-to-date technical training in 50-year-old buildings and that is sometimes a hard thing to do,” said UACCM Chancellor Dr. Larry Davis. “Part of the long-term vision of the institution was to create new facilities to provide the workforce training that the people of Arkansas need and expect, which is something we feel we can provide.”

According to Linda Birkner, vice chancellor for administration, the 53,000-square-foot center will house five different programs: Automotive Service Technology; Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology; Welding Technology; and Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance Technology labs. 

Birkner pointed out that in addition to the UACCM program space, the new center will have a large room for specialized workforce training. Big enough to accommodate large pieces of equipment, the room can help address training needs of existing industries. 

Other features in the new building include:

A grand foyer with space for students to take a break from classes. It will include a donor wall which will recognize those who contributed to the $15 million project. “This project is funded by a massive group of people,” Birkner said, adding that a capital campaign has generated almost $3 million. UACCM is also receiving several hundred thousand dollars in equipment for the center.
Large windows, allowing individuals outside the classrooms to get a peek on the work being done. “It is designed for tours at any time without disruption,” Birkner said. “We’re really big on tours and letting prospective students see what goes on in a class.”

Additional bays in the automotive area – going from three to 11. “It takes a lot of space to teach auto mechanics,” Birkner said. “The instructors are thrilled with their new space.”

Additional booths in the welding program – from 19 to 54 – both inside and outside. “We intend for this to be the premiere welding suite in the state,” Birkner said, adding that UACCM students are helping to build the booths as part of their training.

UACCM is seeking LEED certification for the training center, which is rare for a facility of this type, according to Birkner. “We teach a lot of ‘green’ programs so it’s really important to us,” she said. “We’re making good progress getting LEED Silver.”

The design for the state-of-the-art building was created by MAHG Architecture of Fort Smith, with input from UACCM instructors. Nabholz Construction is the builder. “This is truly an Arkansas project,” Davis said. “From design to finish.”

Work on the training center began six years ago with the help of a consultant and visits to other campuses, according to Birkner. “We didn’t go for the best (facility) in one area, we went for the best in the state,” Birkner said of the new center.

Information and support from UACCM’s advisory board has also been helpful, according to Davis. “Our advisory members have been awesome,” he said, adding they provide insight into what equipment is needed and help UACCM acquire it.

The facility should be completed mid-spring and officials plan to host a ribbon-cutting in April, with the center fully operational for classes in the fall.

With the new facility, UACCM hopes to attract more students into vocational and technical jobs to help address shortages. The school is already hiring additional faculty in anticipation of that need. “Our goal is to double all of our technical programs,” Birkner said. 

Davis said the new center has generated a lot of excitement from students, faculty, industry partners and the community. “We want to be the place employers come to first when they look for employees.”

Both Birkner and Davis agree that there is not a comparable training facility in the state. “I think you’d have to go out of state,” Birkner said. “They are just too expensive.”

“I don’t know of any (in state),” Davis said. “We want to do it right and we’ve done it right…We’re loving it.”