It may have been one of the area’s best kept secrets, but it’s out of the bag now: Somerset Community College (SCC) is buying 35 acres from the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) at the Valley Oak Complex in order to expand its course offerings and help workforce development in the area.
SCC President Dr. Carey Castle and several other SCC officials were on hand at Tuesday’s SPEDA board meeting to witness the board vote in favor of turning over the property, which includes the former Blackboard buildings, to the community college.
Afterwards, Dr. Castle joked, “I had a top secret clearance in the Air Force. And you guys keep good secrets.”
That’s not to say that no information got out at all. Both SPEDA President/CEO Chris Girdler and Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley admitted that they were so excited about the plan that they had talked about aspects of the upcoming deal to outsiders, prompting Somerset Mayor Alan Keck to joke that they had both broken the rules.
But with the deal all but finalized, both sides can finally talk about what the new SCC facility will provide.
SCC Vice President of Workforce Solutions Alesa Johnson said the college will offer training in such areas as additive manufacturing, geothermal and solar energies, above and below ground utility technician training and heavy equipment operations.
Girdler pointed out that the heavy equipment operations course will the first of its kind in Kentucky.
Johnson said the new programs will heavily focus on helping with the region’s workforce shortages and will keep in mind the busy schedules of those seeking higher education training.
“Its very difficult for those who have tried to go to school and raise a family and work full time,” she said. The facility will include open labs that students can make use of at any time, as well as modular courses making it easier to attend class and continue with their current job.
She said she hoped the new facility will be “life-changing and transformative to our workforce.”
The new facility will offer a Utility Technician Apprenticeship Program (UTAP), or training for those who want to learn more about utility work.
UTAP will offer two pathways when it starts – above-ground or underground utility technician. This program has been established to fast-track utility technicians in a field that has a great need for employees, according to a SPEDA press release.
The facility will also offer training in advanced manufacturing, HVAC/refrigeration, leadership and business.
The location of the facility – near the Ky. 461/East Ky. 80 intersection – will aid in attracting students from not just this area, but from nearby regions such as Rockcastle and London, according to Girdler.
Dr. Castle thanked the board for approving the sale, saying “The things that we do out here are not for us. They’re for our community. They’re for our students. … This is one of those time where everyone is on the same page, moving the same way.”
Castle was quoted in SPEDA’s press release as saying, “We will now be able to provide needed, focused training in specialized areas for short and long-term credentials that directly support our region’s growth and future economic development. We are especially grateful for the vision and ongoing partnership with SPEDA that built the pathway for this opportunity, and we are committed to the success and growth in this and all our service area.”
Girdler added, “Quality educational opportunities are crucial to building a strong workforce and supporting our industrial community. Through continued dialogue with SCC about how we can work together to improve workforce development, we discovered a unique opportunity to position a career and technical training center right in the heart of the industrial park.
“This accomplishes two goals — meeting the needs of some of our largest employers while expanding education in Somerset-Pulaski County. It was a win for both of our organizations, but more importantly, for our community.”
Renovations on the two buildings included in the transfer are expected to take place in the coming months, with the first classes expected to begin in the spring.