Transportation facility centerpiece of CVTC referendum
Measure on April 7 ballot for Western Taylor County voters
Chippewa Valley Technical College’s proposed $48.8 million referendum on April 7 is designed to respond to a growing workforce shortage, accommodate evolving technology and improve safety and security in the community and on campus. While this involves multiple projects, the largest is the construction of a Transportation Education Center.
The total $48.8 million costs will be spread out over CVTC’s entire 11-county district and result in an estimated property tax impact of about $13 a year per $100,000 of equalized property value. Western Taylor County is within the CVTC district.s The $28 million, 124,000 sq. ft. Transportation Education Center would bring together scattered transportation-related programs while allowing CVTC to better prepare students and existing workers in the community for the rapidly changing technology in the industry. While electric vehicles and hybrids are still a minority on today’s roads and driverless vehicles are in their infancy, the trends in the transportation industry are unmistakable.
“This means CVTC’s future and past graduates will need to know how to service cars that are designed and powered differently,” said CVTC president Bruce Barker. “While these are exciting green advancements, it is impossible to provide adequate training in our outdated, undersized learning labs that were designed and built in the 1960’s.”
A centerpiece of CVTC’s facilities plans, as outlined in the proposed referendum, is construction of a Transportation Education Center (TEC) at the West Campus. The facility would allow CVTC to keep up with the changes in the transportation sector of the economy and ensure that students would be trained for today’s jobs and the jobs of the future.
Currently, CVTC’s transportation programs are scattered in several locations in facilities that are outdated or too small.
“We have Automotive Technician programs at the main campus, and Motorcycle, Marine and Outdoor Power Products is down the hall from them,” said Adam Wehling, dean of agriculture, energy and transportation. “Auto Collision Repair is in a separate building. The Diesel Truck Technicians are across town at the Diesel Education Center. Truck Driving is by the Energy Center.”
The lack of a common location for the programs means little collaboration between faculty, and it makes it difficult to provide adequate student support services like tutoring.
“Truck Driving and Diesel Truck Technician, for example, are separated by miles,” Wehling said. “With one location, we would be able to share equipment and resources, which would make us more efficient. With program students working together, it would make the student experience more valuable.”
The Transportation Education Center will provide updated technology to prepare students for coming changes, but what’s under the hood already presents challenges that CVTC students must meet.
“We’re working on integrating the higher tech components – the more advanced computer controls, hybrid systems, electric vehicles, and all the computer controls and diagnostics that go with that,” Wehling said. “Electronics is becoming increasingly more important in all transportation programs. We teach it now, but not to the extent we need to.”
“The automotive industry is one where technological advances are happening the fastest,” said Bob Adams, owner of Adams Automotive in Eau Claire. “Technicians need to be trained in technology as well as troubleshooting and diagnostic techniques. It’s a constant learning experience keeping up with the changes.”
“Automated systems in vehicles are being inserted in everything from cars to forklifts, to trucks and even agricultural equipment,” Wehling said.
There are already vehicles that can park themselves, lane assist technology, adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance on vehicles currently on the market. In power systems, the market is seeing traditional gasoline and diesel engines, electric, hybrids and compressed natural gas (CNG). The need for servicing such technology will only increase.
“We have no current facilities to teach about CNG vehicles, as we don’t have a CNG compliant building with maintenance bays,” Wehling said. “The entire fleet of Kwik Trip trucks, for example, is fueled by CNG. Our students are only getting traditional diesel engine training. Our current transportation facilities restrict some of our ability to teach to the fullest extent of what industry needs.” Wehling continued.
The proposal is also meant to address a growing workforce shortage in transportation. For example, there are 86 annual openings for diesel truck technicians in the area, according to Economic Modeling Software. CVTC graduated 39 students in the program in 2018-19. In automotive maintenance, there are 111 openings a year, but only about 25 graduates a year. Auto collision repair shops have 39 openings a year. CVTC has about a dozen graduates.
Better facilities tend to draw more students, as CVTC experienced when it last held a referendum that resulted in construction of the Manufacturing and Emergency Service Education centers as well as the River Falls Campus. The facilities contributed to a 54% increase in enrollment from 1997 to 2017.
“The CVTC program has done a fantastic job training quality technicians, but the industry needs more of them,” Adams said. “The industry is still growing and will continue to grow. We need to find a way to attract top quality people.”
124,000 sq. ft. Transportation Education Center which will bring together scattered transportation-related programs under one location.