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New Richmond campus of WITC moves into new space

Instructor Kelly Kepler explains an assignment during a communications class last week at the New Richmond campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. The teacher and students meet in one of the new classrooms that were added to the local WITC campus over the summer

Students at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College-New Richmond are enjoying a little bit more elbow room as the new school year begins.

When classes resumed on campus Aug. 20, the finishing touches were just being completed on a new 8,000-square-foot classroom and office addition and a major renovation project. Some of the classroom and lab spaces were being used on the opening days of the new semester, while other areas were waiting for back-ordered furniture and other final details to be hammered out before they could be used.

According to Campus Administrator Joe Huftel, it was a mad dash to get ready for students. Most of the instructors moved into their new office spaces just days before classes started. A number of classrooms were quickly readied for use, even if they weren't fully operational in terms of technology and furniture.

"We're still unpacking," Huftel admitted during an interview Wednesday.

Even with the glitches, Huftel had a hard time covering up his delight over the added space that will help officials address overcrowding issues that have plagued WITC for years. WITC completed an addition and renovation project less than two years ago, but the school still has experienced a space crunch in their quest to meet growing student demand.

With the latest project, Huftel said classes will finally be moved out of WITC's conference center and other temporary spaces. The new addition, besides providing office space for faculty and staff, also includes six new classrooms. Huftel noted the expanded and improved library and technology center will also be a big plus for students and staff. New distance learning labs will help to improve the students' learning environment at WITC as well.

The aging Power Equipment Center across the parking lot from the main campus also received a significant upgrade as a result of the project.

"We took a 40-year-old building and upgraded it to a very nice facility," he said. "I'm very optimistic that we're going to get another 40 years out of that building with the upgrades we made."

A major upgrade to the school's science lab is another significant improvement that was accomplished as part of the project, he noted.

"We got a lot of bang for our buck," Huftel said. "We were very frugal. We finished a lot of functional space without going overboard."

Huftel said the expansion and renovation project, which totaled about $4 million, went very smoothly since it began last spring.

Because of favorable weather early in the year, construction crews were able to get a fast start on the project, Huftel said. While there was a bit of a delay in shipping the structural steel for the addition because of the early start, Huftel said the general contractor, Derrick Commercial Contracting of New Richmond, was able to meet all of its deadlines for completion.

"They had a very small window of opportunity to get stuff done," he said. "They did a tremendous job. It went flawlessly."

Huftel also wanted to specifically thank Larry Gee, senior director of teach/learn at WITC, for his help in helping direct the expansion and renovation project.

"He coordinated a lot of different aspects of the project," Huftel said. "He did an incredible job."

There have been a few issues with the delivery of necessary furniture and the hooking up of technology and network systems in the new addition, but those will be done in the coming days, Huftel said.

Now that WITC has a bit more space, Huftel said he plans to push for new program offerings on campus. One program he would like to start up is the medical lab technician course, but that will require approval by the WITC board.

"I keep telling them, if we open up a program here, we're going to fill it," Huftel said. "We're growing by leaps and bounds down here."

The community is invited to an open house celebration on Thursday, Sept. 6, from 4 to 6 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony will be conducted at about 4:30 p.m.

Tours of the addition and renovated areas will be offered. Refreshments will be served.