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WITC swings into renovation

Machine tool technician student Matthew Brown of Superior, front, swings a sledgehammer with fellow students to mark the beginning of three renovation projects at WITC’s Superior campus Monday in the HVAC lab. Maria Lockwood

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College kicked off nearly $4 million in renovation projects with swinging sledgehammers Monday at its Superior campus.

"We could not do a ground breaking, because we are not technically breaking any ground," said Campus Administrator Bonny Copenhaver. "So the equivalent of that is to bang walls."

Students were the first to put holes in the walls of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning lab.

"I’m graduating this year, but I’m excited to see what the changes are," said Brooke Camps of Cloquet, an HVAC student who has been working in the field for the past two years. She left holes in her lab room wall Monday.

The project will turn four smaller rooms into one large "living lab" that gives students a glimpse of the building’s heating and cooling systems. An upper level mezzanine will be added and the space will be designed to better support collaboration between education and industry, ensuring graduates entering the field have meaningful skills and training. The college partnered with Trane and Snap-On during the design process.

"What we’ll be providing or contributing to the cause is to really put in a world-class center of excellence HVAC lab," said Pat Archambault of Trane. "The students who are trained on this state-of-the-art equipment and technology will be job-ready, and will be job-ready for good paying jobs, jobs that are in demand today, and they will be in demand tomorrow, so it’s very exciting to be part of that."

Stability is what attracted Camps to the program.

"A lot of people don’t realize there are so many opportunities and jobs," she said. "I just wanted something I know I’m going to have a job in for the rest of my life."

The welding and machine tool labs also will be renovated.

"They’re expanding our shop next door so this will be a lot more open and the teachers will actually be more visible in the classroom," said machine tool technician student Matthew Brown of Superior before he swung a sledgehammer.

In addition to the lab work, faculty office and facilities are being renovated. Work will take place on the administrative offices, as well. The upgrades will give WITC a fresh look, said marketing director Jena Vogtman.

"Obviously, the huge investment brings in a lot of jobs from construction trades, but more importantly, this is really setting the course for the future of this institution," said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range. Wisconsin has one of the top technical college systems in the country, he said, and the crown jewel is WITC.

"They are consistently ranked among the most elite technical college systems in the entire country, but more importantly they really transform people’s lives," Milroy said. He credited the technical college’s high placement rate to the leadership, staff and board at WITC.

"I work with a lot of different colleges around the area, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and definitely WITC is really putting forth the effort to make a great program here," said Tim Nelson of Snap-On Tools.

Students are the motivation behind the work, which Copenhaver called one of the most extensive renovations the Superior campus has ever had.

"Transforming our teaching labs and classroom spaces will ensure our students continue to have hand-on learning experiences with the very best technology and equipment," Copenhaver said.

WITC is bonding for the construction costs, which will be repaid from the WITC district through the tax levy.

The renovated spaces will be ready to welcome students by fall, Vogtman said.

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