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WITC plans facility expansion, remodeling

Participants in Friday's groundbreaking ceremony at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond were (left to right) Joe Huftel, WITC vice president and New Richmond campus administrator; Joe Kerlin, president of New Richmond Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Kevin Derrick, Derrick Construction and project superintendent; Fred Horne, New Richmond mayor and WITC graduate; Derrick Capra, Legend Architecture LLC; Bill Derrick, Jr., Derrick Construction; Carolyn Milbrath, WITC Board; Bob Mey...

Officials with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College's campus in New Richmond were hoping for a bigger project.

Instead, they've had to settle for an 8,000-square-foot addition and a remodeling project of its existing structure to help meet the needs of its growing student population.

College officials conducted a brief groundbreaking ceremony Friday afternoon to kick off this summer's capital project.

"I look for a great summer of construction," said Campus Administrator Joe Huftel. "We're going to get a lot of bang for our buck here."

WITC ran out of room months ago, Huftel said. Enrollment records have been broken in each of the past three years as new students look for job opportunities in the down economy.

"When the economy is bad, our business is usually good," Huftel explained.

Higher demand for training, coupled with the growing population of St. Croix County over the past nine years, has helped create the perfect storm for the New Richmond campus.

The local college has waiting lists of students hoping to enroll in several of the more popular training programs at the institution. The students who are fortunate to be enrolled often find classroom and laboratory space cramped due to a stressed facility, Huftel said.

That's what led to WITC's proposal last year to construct a 15,000-square-foot building on the western edge of the campus property. That planned project was considerably less than the 30,000 square feet of new construction the facility was hoping to build to meet student needs.

But when last year's bids came back at $1.8 million instead of the estimated $1.5 million, "we were dead in the water," Huftel said.

WITC officials went back to the drawing board, Huftel said, and reworked the plans. They eventually came up with an 8,000-square-foot addition to the existing building at a cost of $1.5 million, plus $1.1 million of renovated space.

Technical colleges are limited to $1.5 million in new construction every two years, plus $1.5 million of renovations every two years, Huftel explained.

"We're just trying to do what we can with what we have," he said. "We're not likely to keep up with demand at this rate, but we're able to do something."

Work on the project began in earnest on Monday.

When the 8,000 square feet is added onto the back of the main building it will house the popular welding and small engines programs. The Motorcycle, Marine & Outdoor Power Products Tech program will relocate from the separate Power Equipment Center to the new space at the main building. The welding program will move into new space, with two additional welding bays.

The space where those programs currently exist will be remodeled for use by other programs.

"The construction project causes a whole series of domino effects on eight different programs," Huftel said. "It accomplishes a lot for $2.6 million."

The Industrial Automation, Controls and Networking program will move into remodeled space vacated by welding.

The Automated Packaging & Systems Technician Program will expand into space vacated by Industrial Automation, Controls & Networking.

A new hallway will be created to access the new square footage, affecting the Packaging, Welding, Machine Tooling Technics, and Trade & Technical administration and faculty offices.

Emergency Medical Services and Fire/Rescue Training will relocate storage space to the remodeled space vacated by small engines program in the Power Equipment Center. This also gives them dedicated space to hold training classes.

The Law Enforcement-Corrections program will be housed entirely in the Power Equipment Center in newly remodeled space, which will include an official jail cell and other features to enhance training purposes.

Because an existing parking lot will be lost as a result of the addition, new parking spaces will be created to the west.

Derrick Construction is construction manager for about 30 sub-contractors on the project.

According to Huftel, project is expected to be completed toward the end of the calendar year (or at the end of the first semester of the 2010-11 college term).

Once the project is completed, Huftel said WITC will begin to think about its next project in two years or so.

Officials with the college hope to finish improvements to the power equipment program space during the next phase of its project. The facility would also like to add space to its facility in anticipation of adding a new trade or technical program in the future.

It's been four years since WITC-New Richmond has added a new program to its course offerings, Huftel said, and that's unacceptable.

"We can't just sit back and not look at new programs," he said. "Our growing population needs access to educational services, and we want to provide those services as close to home as possible."