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WCCC shows off Advanced Technology Center in old Sony plant

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Saturday, June 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Muted earth tones, stainless-steel fixtures atop tiled back splashes and wall-sized whiteboards in nearly every room may not be what most people think of when imagining the site of vocational training.

Westmoreland County Community College designed it that way on purpose, officials said during a tour Friday of the college's new Advanced Technology Center in the southeast corner of the former Sony plant in East Huntingdon.

The 73,500-square-foot space was designed to look like the opposite of what generally comes to mind when thinking about industry and manufacturing — dark, dirty and dangerous, said Doug Jensen, vice president for economic development and chief executive for the center.

“We wanted to go for industrial, very corporate, but (the building) also has a contemporary feel,” Jensen said. “This is not your 1970s vocational school.”

When the center opens Aug. 21, it will house programs such as welding, electronics, metallurgy and mechatronics that currently squeeze into about 18,000 square feet on the campus near Youngwood.

“The whole building is designed for flexibility and access,” said Jensen. “The days of hard walls and hard spaces are over.”

When students walk in the main entrance, they'll look straight down a hallway to the Hub, identified with a large, punched-metal, back-lit vertical sign.

The Hub features work spaces with long counter-height islands, stools and outlets to plug in computers, tablets and other devices. A “cloud” of white panels hanging above reflects light onto the island and breaks up the large room, Jensen said.

Flexible seating arrangements, a quiet room and video booths for taking an online class or having a video interview over Skype surround the space, as do offices for career coaches.

“They can see the kids; the kids can see them ... to make sure that relationship is very engaging, very versatile,” Jensen said.

To the left of the main entrance is an area that eventually will house corporations that will partner with WCCC to train workers, but those deals are in the works, Jensen said.

To the right of the entrance is a 400-foot hallway lined with windows and faculty offices that's dubbed “Main Street.”

At the corner of Main Street and each cross hallway are “people pockets” — Jensen's term for lounges — that each will feature a colorful mural and a large, milky white, spherical light.

The areas are designed to give students and faculty places to pause for conversation, sit down on soft furniture or just perch on the extra-wide arms, Jensen said.

The roughly $15 million Advanced Technology Center, funded through WCCC's capital campaign by a mixture of public funds, foundation grants and private donations, “radically changed” from the original plan sketched out in a 2009 feasibility study, officials said.

Jensen said he encouraged flexibility as the guiding design principle.

To that end, more than 16,000 square feet running parallel to Main Street is “flex space,” left wide open for machines to move in and out in any configuration. Aluminum piping runs horizontally the length of the room's ceiling with power cords of varying voltages and hoses of compressed air that can be pulled down and plugged into a machine anywhere in the room.

Lab space for heating/air conditioning, welding and Marcellus shale natural gas training are just off the flex space. And between Main Street and the flex space are classrooms and labs for electronics, metallurgy and computer design with 3-D printers.

Next door to a traditional computer lab with 30 computers is a digital cafe that will offer seating and coffee tables.

“I don't think there's another facility like this in the region,” Jensen said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated for 11 a.m. Sept. 5.

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