Posted Friday, December 4, 2020 11:42 am (added PCC comments in [brackets]).

By George Willoughby |

Piedmont Community College has its sights on an advanced technology center in the $20 million range, according to an update from President Pamela Senegal to the Person County Economic Development Commission Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Senegal said that much of the work on the center has stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and capital outlay project[s not being funded in 2019-20 by Person County] changes, but she wanted to begin the conversation about the capital project as the county prepares for the upcoming budget talks.

“As a reminder, the idea here was to construct an advanced technology training center in Person County in conjunction with Person County Schools and local industry,” she explained. “The idea here is to use this space to [upskill] existing workers and also to prepare the region’s workforce not only in advanced manufacturing, but also in trade careers.”

Senegal said a feasibility report on the potential training center was designed to address future training needs, the cost effectiveness of renovating an existing building versus a new build, how regional employers will assist the project and the estimated costs of the project.

Local employers initially identified skill areas that PCC already met, but said there will be an increasing need for automation, robotics, different types of welding and for specialized equipment training.

The question became how to host those areas.

“The challenge with renovating is that we currently have all of our technical manufacturing programs spread out throughout about four different buildings on our campus right now,” Senegal said. “Many of those buildings are 25-plus years old and the report estimated that there would be a 30 to 50 percent increase in the overall project cost as a result of renovating.”
Senegal said that additional cost would be associated with relocating multiple existing programs or the possibility of shutting some programs down while renovations are being done.

“I like option A better [option A was recommended by the consultant after the feasibility study],” Senegal said. “I would hate the idea of shutting down our welding program considering how many of those students are able to get good-paying jobs.”

A new building would also create a “showcase” or a location of interest.

Possible location of the new building would be PCC’s campus where there is space for at least four additional buildings, Senegal said, or on a main corridor that has higher visibility and is closer to major industry partners.

“Based on interviews, the preference came out in the feasibility report for something that’s new and something that is located on a main corridor versus being on the college’s main campus,” Senegal said. “They identified a number of parcels that met that criteria and there were also a number of advantages that were noted. In particular, that there would not be a need to interrupt construction.”

With an estimated size between 58,000 and 76,000 square feet, the total project cost would be between $21 and $28 million.

Senegal said PCC initially requested around $23 million for the project.
“At this point, because those conversations were put on hold, we think that the logical next steps for us to do at this point are to reconnect with each of the industry partners that were originally contacted as part of the ATC feasibility study and reconfirm their commitment to the ATC and, if possible, to more formally secure their commitment to helping support that ATC,” Senegal said.

“And then we look forward to participating in county capital project conversations that will likely happen this spring to determine what support is available in the community and what’s the interest of the community in supporting something like this.”

Senegal said, based on initial conversations with guarantors, foundations and private donors, about 30 to 40 percent of the overall cost is available, but the county would need to also bring forward some funds in a public-private partnership.

There was the possibility of a state construction bond, but the measure failed in the state legislature leaving the bond unfunded.

The ATC could also be modified to address the needs of a future anchor tenant at the Person County Mega Park.

“At the end of the day, in our current facilities for training, our faculty is still doing amazing work, our folks are still getting credentialed, but when we tour people through those spaces to inspire them that our workforce is prepared and ready, I think the impression is a little underwhelming and this is probably one of the investments that I believe that we as a community need to make,” Senegal said.

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