Alberta’s Lethbridge College opened its new Trades, Technologies and Innovation Centre last month with a symbolic ribbon cutting.
The "ribbon" was made out of metal that was cut using an acetylene torch instead of scissors, symbolizing some of the hands-on skills students will learn there.
The $77-million building, designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, is the largest construction project the school has ever undertaken. It took three-and-a-half years to finish and is now the largest trades training facility south of Calgary.
The completed building, which includes the first phase that opened in September 2015, measures 168,812 square feet and provides state-of-the-art training space for students in a variety of skilled trades and technologies programming.
It supports a 50 per cent increase in students, with space and programming for over 880 additional placements at the college.
"I think that we created a training centre that is good for many years in the future and it should be able to meet the local needs," said Cal Whitehead, school of construction trades chair. "And we also have the ability to change with the needs of the local community."
Whitehead explained the process to get the new facility began roughly eight years ago when the school began to outgrow its aging infrastructure that was built in the 1950s. Funding was secured for several years while the new facility and its funding could be planned for.
In 2013 the first phase of the project began and added automotive and heavy agriculture equipment bays to the Crooks School of Transportation, which opened in 2015.
The second phase began that year to house those studying for wind turbine technician, electrician, welder and plumber apprenticeship training, engineering design and drafting, and interior design technology programs. The first students moved into the facility in late August.
As part of the conditions for provincial funding, the school set out to design the building to have a net zero utility cost to operate. To achieve this the team built energy models and analyzed user input and process loads. Solar control, efficient glazing and minimizing the area of the building envelope were then implemented.
The building's swooping roofline includes 80 light tubes in addition to clerestory windows to provide a high level of natural light to the large program areas. Whitehead said the natural light as well as natural materials, such as glulam timbers, has made the facility popular among students for its pleasant atmosphere.
"Everybody is loving the natural aspects," he said. "It's a tremendous learning environment."
Whitehead said the most difficult task during the construction process was accommodating students.
"The biggest thing is you can't stop classes," Whitehead said. "We had to provide the same level of service but had to give up our building."
The school had to take over an external building and convert it into labs and a training facility.
"It was a major undertaking just to maintain the classes," Whitehead said.
Financing for the project came from the Province of Alberta, internal college funding and contributions from the Possibilities are Endless campaign, which aimed to raise $25 million but instead netted $27.8 million for college projects, including the new training facility.
Whitehead said he was amazed at the generosity of the community. He noted that every year for five years the local homebuilders association would build a home, sell it and then donate the profits to the campaign.
"This grand opening is the culmination of a lot of planning, foresight and effort by many groups to fill a need in southern Alberta that will positively affect our college and the local economy for generations to come," said Paula Burns, Lethbridge College president and CEO in a press release. "The building itself is beautiful and has already become a showcase piece on campus, but the practical applications and technological benefits that it will provide to students is the most exciting part of this project."