WITC proposes second phase of expansion, renovationJust a year removed from completion of a major renovation and expansion project, the New Richmond campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is gearing up for another round of construction.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
Just a year removed from completion of a major renovation and expansion project, the New Richmond campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is gearing up for another round of construction.
The WITC board of directors has unanimously approved a $1.5 million renovation project at New Richmond’s Power Equipment Center, a $1.5 million classroom expansion of the main campus building and a $1 million renovation of existing commons space for 2012.
According to Campus Administrator Joe Huftel, the local plan now awaits final approval from the Wisconsin Technical Colleges board of directors. He expects that approval to come within the next 45 days.
“There are high levels of oversight to make sure we’re not overbuilding,” Huftel explained. “But this really is a no-brainer for us.”
If approval happens, WITC officials hope to start seeking construction bids by January, with construction to start in the spring of 2012. The hope is to have the expansion and renovations completed for occupancy in the fall of 2012.
The additional and upgraded existing space is needed to handle the growing demand for training among residents of St. Croix County, Wisconsin’s fastest growing county over the past decade, Huftel said.
“And, if you look at projections, the growth is not going to slow down,” Huftel said. “The way we look at it, there shouldn’t be students driving past our campus and going to the Twin Cities for schooling just because we’re full. They are taxpayers too. We should be serving their needs.”
According to comparisons with other WITC campuses in Ashland, Superior and Rice Lake, New Richmond’s building reports a classroom utilization rate of about 85 percent. That compares to between 60 and 65 percent of classrooms in use at other campuses.
“We’re always 20 to 25 percent higher than the other locations,” he said. “That, coupled with our FTE (full time equivalency) growth, our project is well warranted.”
That demand for higher education has grown even though the New Richmond campus hasn’t added new programs over the past five years. However, Huftel said, New Richmond officials will finally be able to consider possible new programs in the coming years to meet the needs of local industries and students.
“We need to be prepared for what we know is coming,” he said. “The question is, will we be prepared to meet the educational needs of the people who live here and who pay taxes here?”
The details of the expansion and renovation proposal include a complete gutting of the Power Equipment Center, which sits on the southern edge of the campus parking lot. The building was WITC’s original building when the institution was started decades ago.
“The work is sorely needed,” Huftel said. “The programs we offer in that building are highly viable and it will be worth renovating the building.”
The expansion portion of the project will include a two-story complex, with 4,000 square feet on each of two floors (on the main level and underground). The new space would be located off the northwest side of the existing main building. That space will be used for classrooms, including a new science lab that will replace a small, outdated lab located in the main building.
Renovation plans for the main campus building include a possible new “learning commons” where students can study and receive instructional help during normal business hours.
Last fall, WITC in New Richmond completed work on an 8,000-square-foot addition and a remodeling project of its existing structure. The cost of that expansion was $1.5 million and the renovation total was $1.1 million.
Under state guidelines, technical colleges are limited to $1.5 million in new construction every two years, plus $1.5 million of renovations every two years.
The recent expansion houses the popular welding and small engines programs. The Motorcycle, Marine & Outdoor Power Products Tech program also relocated from the separate Power Equipment Center to the new space at the main building.
The space where those programs previously existed was remodeled for use by other programs.