Education

Welding lab opens at Columbus Tech after $1.69 million renovation

Flashback: Columbus Technical College cuts the ribbon on its “sexy” new welding lab

Columbus Technical College faculty and board of directors members cut the ribbon Tuesday on a newly renovated welding lab that was first built in 1978. The state-of-the-art facility will prepare students with the skills needed as manufacturing bec
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Columbus Technical College faculty and board of directors members cut the ribbon Tuesday on a newly renovated welding lab that was first built in 1978. The state-of-the-art facility will prepare students with the skills needed as manufacturing bec

Columbus Technical College’s new welding lab is “sexy” after a $1.69 million renovation.

That’s the word Columbus Tech President Lorette Hoover used during Tuesday’s opening ceremony to describe what this project produced, transforming the 39-year-old facility into a state-of-the-art learning environment to train in-demand workers.

“Most people don’t know what welding consists of,” Hoover told the gathering of several dozen officials and supporters, explaining her provocative adjective. “There are safety hazards with welding. So when we bring tour groups through … the dilemma was that everyone had to stop welding.”

That’s why the lab has a supersized window and enlarged photos on the walls to cleanly depict the dirty jobs being performed. All of which prompted Hoover to conclude, “I’m just overwhelmed with how well this project turned out.”

The renovation added eight welding booths to the lab, now totaling 36 booths with new machines and separate ventilation systems. The facility also has new heating and air conditioning, a new fabrication room, new electrical wiring, a central vacuum system, new student lockers, an 80-inch SMART Board and a redesigned tool room with storage.

Columbus Tech had 28 welding booths, including 12 single-process machines, when Ronnie McBride became the program’s director in 2009. “It made it hard to book classes when the enrollment started to increase,” he said.

Students now can perform three types of welding in one booth instead of gathering their equipment and moving to another booth.

As the enrollment grew from 45 to 72 students the past eight years, the program had to add two more nights to the schedule and even let students weld outside the booths, “which we didn’t like doing,” McBride said, “but we needed the space.”

Nonetheless, Columbus Tech collected four welding gold medals at the SkillsUSA national championships. So with the new facility and equipment and “full support from our wonderful faculty, staff and industry, and the dedication of our students, there’s no limit to where we can go,” said instructor Armando Troche, who graduated from the program. “Our only limitations are the ones we set for ourselves.”

The institution received a state grant of $1.3 million and funded the rest of the project itself, according to the fact sheet from Columbus Tech executive director for community and college relations Cheryl Myers.

Hoover credits Columbus Tech’s foundation for inspiring all of the college’s employees to contribute to the foundation. That full participation wowed the grant application judges, Hoover said.

“The faculty and staff of Columbus Technical College truly believe in the future of the college and truly believe in workforce development,” she said.

Students had to attend class double time last semester, Hoover said, to earn their credit hours before the lab closed Oct. 7 for the renovation to begin and finish by the Jan. 9 start of this semester. But the crunch time was worth it. Just ask second-year Columbus Tech welding student John Taylor of Phenix City.

“It is 100 percent improvement,” said Taylor, who served for eight years in the U.S. Marines and 7½ years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a sergeant. His goal is to open a welding business to work on chassis for race cars.

“They teach you everything in here that you need to pretty much get any kind of welding job,” Taylor said.

Asked whether the new welding lab has lived up to its expectation, he said, “Even more. … We have everything we need now.”

It’s also healthier, Taylor noted.

“You would go home at night and have dust up in your nose and eyeballs, but not anymore,” he said. “It’s a huge improvement.”

Albion Scaccia of Sandy Springs, Ga., is the project’s construction contractor and Clark Patterson Lee, with 11 offices along the East Coast, including Suwanee and Woodstock, Ga., is the project’s architect.

Welding is a solid career for nearly 400,000 people across the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual pay in 2015 was $38,150 for an occupation that doesn’t require a degree but some steady course time and hard work on the job perfecting the craft and gaining valuable experience. It also is a growing field, with the BLS estimating there will be a need for 14,400 more welders by the year 2024.

Ronnie McBride, welding program director and lead instructor at Columbus Technical College, talks about the welding lab that has undergone a major upgrade. Students jJohn Taylor and Kaydee Guthridge also discuss their career paths and the much-imp

Staff writer Tony Adams contributed to this report.

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