The dream becomes reality this month when students start attending classes at the new Manufacturing Technology Center, one of two new downtown campuses of Central Louisiana Technical Community College in Alexandria.
“This is so exciting, we can’t wait,” said CLTCC Chancellor Jimmy Sawtelle. “We are excited for our students to be able to engage with Downtown. Our students will be able to make a connection with everything there–they will be able to connect with the business and industry, civic organizations, government, with the library and even with nature with the Red River. Our theme and hashtag has been #DowntownIsTheCampus. We believe there is a real heartbeat with the Downtown experience.”
CLTCC is moving from its current building on South MacArthur Drive on the outskirts of town to two downtown locations–a brand new 38,000 square foot Downtown Campus building located between Murray and Jackson Streets hosting academic programs as well as administrative and student services, and a renovated site on Second Street that formerly housed The Town Talk’s McCormick Graphics printing facility that has been transformed to house the 37,000 square foot Manufacturing Training Center. All total, CLTCC will have roughly 10,000 more square feet of space once the $21.6 million project is completed.
“This is an expansion of what we have on MacArthur Drive,” Sawtelle said. As a result, he expects to add additional classes, both in the daytime as well as more night classes. “You’ll see evening welding classes in the Manufacturing Training Center, you’ll see more transferable-to-university general education classes,” Sawtelle said. “This is a very visible and accessible location, and we expect the number of students to increase as well.”
Shanco Williams, president of the CLTCC Student Government Association and a student member of the state’s Louisiana Community Technical College Board of Supervisors, said the students are looking forward to making the move to the downtown campus. “The new campus is exciting for a myriad of reasons,” he said. “Anybody who knows about downtown knows it brings a certain perspective. I love going downtown in the evening and hanging out at Tamp & Grind.”
Williams, 43, is an example of the type of non-traditional students CLTCC can serve. Williams grew up in an Air Force family, with his father’s final assigned base being England Air Force Base. “I’m a transplant from New Orleans, but I graduated from Alexandria Senior High School in 1994,” Williams said. After graduation, Williams followed in his father’s footsteps by serving in the Air Force. He retired last year and has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Wayland Baptist University. He recently decided he wanted to learn drafting, which is what lead him to CLTCC. “CLTCC offered the quickest path to get through school and back into the workforce,” Williams said. He enrolled in drafting and design classes in the spring of 2019 and plans to graduate with an associate degree in applied sciences in the spring of 2020.
Williams had other options but prefers the community college approach over a larger school environment. “As a non-traditional student, I really appreciate the opportunities available from CLTCC,” he said. “Being downtown, we’ll have things that will help us expand the whole college experience and enhance it,” Williams said. “The new campus will give us more student opportunities and state-of-the-art facilities.”
The project has been a long time in the making. The original authorization for the move came in 2013 when the Louisiana Legislature approved Act 360. “I definitely want to thank the legislators who created Act 360 and made all of this possible,” Sawtelle said.
“We want to thank Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall, Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields, former Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy and all of the city leaders and our supporters in Alexandria and Pineville,” he continued. “And, of course, our two architectural firms—Barron Heinberg & Brocato Architects and Engineers and Ashe Broussard Weinzettle Architects, as well as Ratcliff Construction.” Other groups Sawtelle cited as significant supporters in creating the new campus include the Rapides Foundation, CLEDA, the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the North Rapides Business Alliance. “Also, I want to thank the whole consortia of companies we serve that have established the need for a community and technical college,” Sawtelle said.
“For the first time in a long time, we’re making a public investment in downtown Alexandria,” Governor John Bel Edwards told a standing-room-only audience in the City Council Chambers in Alexandria City Hall in 2016. “We’re going to bring thousands of people into downtown Alexandria on a daily basis, and this has the potential to serve as a real catalyst for development in an area that, quite frankly, needs it.”
Then Alexandria Mayor Roy said, at the time, the project would increase the job-readiness and knowledge of the workforce and community as well as provide a boost to downtown revitalization. “The real overall impact is it’s a linchpin project for the entire region, way beyond downtown,” Roy said at the time, citing the school’s educational and workforce benefits.
“Our mission is to create a pipeline of workers for high-demand, high-pay, high-skill careers,” Sawtelle said. “The new campus facilities will expand our ability to do that. We will have access to more classroom space and more access to technology. Our old site was tailor-made for the 1970s. The new campus will have more robust, high-def, state-of-the art technology.”
The first campus to open to students, the Manufacturing Technology Center, is described by school officials as a “world-class” manufacturing training facility. The facility was made possible by a $2 million grant awarded by the Rapides Foundation to help fund the project that was matched by the state. “This is the biggest non-construction-related donation that we have had in the history of our college,” Sawtelle said when the plans were announced in December of 2017. “This goes directly towards our students and the companies and industries that they will eventually go to work for.”
In addition to helping compensate additional faculty with competitive salaries, Sawtelle said, the grant money will be spent to launch and support advanced manufacturing programs and necessary high-tech equipment. The $2 million grant was one of the largest ever to be awarded by the Rapides Foundation, according to its president and CEO, Joe Rosier. “Our grant is a vote of confidence to CLTCC leadership and staff,” Rosier said at the time in 2017.
CLTCC students and faculty are not the only ones benefiting from the new campus. The school’s decision to move into the downtown area has provided a significant boost to the City of Alexandria’s ongoing revitalization efforts. The expected infusion of 500-700 students a day into the downtown area brings with it numerous opportunities for local businesses. “There are so many possibilities available downtown, from new construction to renovation of historic properties,” noted Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall. “Those opportunities have been there, but now, with the community college campuses opening and the hundreds of students and faculty that will be downtown daily, we have the critical mass of people to make it really attractive to business investors.”
As part of its commitment to the new campus, the city paid about $2.6 million of the construction costs with the state covering the remaining $19 million. The city has also added additional parking spaces, increased security downtown with the creation of the new Harbor Patrol police substation, and is making other infrastructure improvements to support the new campus as well as the additional businesses expected to come to downtown Alexandria to serve the needs of the students.
Deborah Randolph, president of the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, echoed the city’s belief that the campus will attract new business into the downtown area noting, “With 500-700 students attending CLTCC on a daily basis, the campus will continue to spark more accelerated downtown development. CLTCC’s new downtown campuses will not only enhance workforce development, but also create tremendous opportunities for local businesses and attractions.”
Sawtelle acknowledged the lofty expectations and said the school is eager to meet them. “That’s what we are here for,” he said. “We’re here to recruit and train a skilled workforce for Central Louisiana.”
Williams hopes to be one of those local success stories and get a local job after graduation. “I’m a Louisiana native. If I can get something in Cenla, that would be perfect,” he said. “You hear all the time that Louisiana is dead last in everything,” Williams added. “But there are opportunities here.” He cited his own experience with the school and being elected as SGA President locally and selected to serve on the LCTC Board of Supervisors. Of the 17 members who serve on the statewide board, 15 are appointed by the governor, with the other two positions created for student representatives. “I’ve met the governor twice and I’ve met (Alexandria) Mayor Jeff Hall once,” he said. “A year ago, I was sitting at Barksdale (Air Force Base in Shreveport) and never imagined this would be possible.
“There are opportunities here,” Williams continued. “If you’re not scared, you can reach out and take advantage of them.”