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WCCC gets federal funds to expand gas training

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Westmoreland County Community College's ShaleNET natural gas training program will receive $3.14 million in federal funding to expand and purchase training equipment, college officials said at a special trustees meeting Thursday.

WCCC, which led a consortium of educators and industry members to create ShaleNET in 2010, is working as a partner with Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, the leader of the project, and colleges in Canton, Ohio, and Corsicana, Texas, for the $14.96 million U.S. Department of Labor grant.

The grant will enable the ShaleNET program to expand from 69 counties in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia to serve an additional 46 counties in Texas and Ohio. It will help the schools develop a hybrid classroom and online curriculum and create “stackable” credentials, putting students on a fast track to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree.

WCCC also will use grant funds to purchase natural gas training equipment, including well site, electrical, hydraulic and welding pieces, to be used at its main campus near Youngwood and its Public Safety Training Center in South Huntingdon, said Patrick Gerity, vice president of continuing education, workforce and community development.

With an initial grant of nearly $5 million, WCCC and other institutions developed training programs for entry-level jobs in the Marcellus shale industry. This second round of funding will focus on higher-level positions, said Gerity.

The four “hub” colleges will offer standardized training programs for pipeline/distribution operators and process, petroleum, industrial maintenance and field automation technicians, he said.

To date, 2,338 people were placed in jobs by WCCC, other schools and services provided by ShaleNET, Gerity said.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., visited WCCC in April to observe a “floorhand class,” which trains students for entry-level gas rig jobs, and to stump for the college's application to the Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program.

“As the industry continues to expand, we must ensure that Pennsylvania workers can tap into the good paying jobs being created and I'm pleased ShaleNET will have the resources to continue working toward that goal,” Casey said.

In other business, WCCC trustees voted to hire Monroeville-based Design 3 Architecture as the school's liaison to oversee the design, engineering, construction and occupancy at its Advanced Technology Center, set to open next fall in the former Sony plant in East Huntingdon, and the relocation of its Latrobe satellite campus.

Demolition is expected to begin later this fall for existing properties WCCC has purchased in order to relocate its Laurel Education Center from Lloyd Avenue and Chambers Street to a new $6 million facility across Loyalhanna Creek in downtown Latrobe, said WCCC spokeswoman Anna Marie Palatella.

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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