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WCCC's Advanced Technology Center to emerge in former Sony plant

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 12:36 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Trib Total Media
U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy and State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, share a moment with Westmoreland County Commissioner Tyler Courtney (right) during a ground breaking ceremony for the Westmoreland County Community College's new Advanced Technology Center at RIDC-Westmoreland near Mt. Pleasant July 12.
Brian F. Henry | Trib Total Media
Rich Houlis, a lab technician at Westmoreland Community College, gives a demonstration on a Mechatronics training machine at the school's Commissioners Hall as part of a ground breaking ceremony for the Westmoreland County Community College's new Advanced Technology Center at RIDC-Westmoreland near Mt. Pleasant July 12.

As construction dust settled inside the southeast corner of the former Sony plant in East Huntingdon, Westmoreland County Community College officials celebrated the beginning of the space's transition to the college's Advanced Technology Center.

Friday marked the end of six weeks of demolition inside the gargantuan industrial campus where WCCC will house its workforce development programs, starting in fall 2014.

Programs such as welding, electronics, metallurgy and mechatronics that squeeze into about 18,000 square feet on the college's campus near Youngwood soon will spread over 73,500 square feet.

The space is so large the primary hallway is labeled “Main Street” on architectural renderings by Astorino, a Pittsburgh-based firm. Behind the hall of offices will be classrooms and lab space; behind that will be open space that can be configured to meet the needs of companies that use WCCC to train their workers.

Officials touted the Advanced Technology Center as an anchor in the 2.8 million-square-foot RIDC-Westmoreland facility that already houses Aquion Energy and DNP IMS America Corp., which makes printing and packaging supplies.

“In due time, this building is going to be filled with employers,” said Larry Larese, chairman of WCCC's board of trustees.

“The availability of flexible, customized workforce training will be an incentive for new employers to relocate to this facility and the nearby industrial parks,” said WCCC President Daniel Obara.

Trustee Gene Ciafre, co-chair of the college's capital campaign, said the technical programs to be housed at the new center prepare students for jobs that did not exist five or 10 years ago.

Ciafre said WCCC recently received the largest donation in college history, a $2 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The capital campaign has raised $23.5 million of about $28.5 million needed for three projects: renovations at the technology center and the campus near Youngwood and construction of a new campus in Latrobe.

County Commissioner Ted Kopas said WCCC's projects are having a big impact on the county. The technology center is making over the “ghost town” that was the former Sony plant while providing needed workforce training. And the college's Latrobe campus replaces an aging facility and revitalizes a downtown, he said.

After the ceremony, staff from several programs that will relocate to the technology center demonstrated what students learn in their classes.

Rich Houlis, a mechatronics lab technician, showed a valve-assembly unit that teaches students hydraulics, mechanical and electrical systems and computer programming. Houlis said he will put mistakes throughout the machine and students have to figure out what's wrong.

“That's what they'd be facing if they were in a factory,” Houlis said.

A video showed a Haas 5-Axis Mill at work in a WCCC lab. The mill, on loan for two years from the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, can make parts quickly by cutting and moving in five directions, said Frank Kordalski, dean of workforce development.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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