A building that used to house Legos, toy science lab sets and robots has been transformed into a place that will teach people how to apply science and technology to get a job or improve their skills.
Five years in the making, Central Georgia Technical College’s Charles H. Jones Advanced Technology Center at 3660 Eisenhower Parkway in Macon -- the former Toys “R” Us building -- is expected to be fully operational by the end of the month. A handful of students had class in one of the labs last week, and more equipment and furniture will be moved in soon.
The internal and external building renovations cost about $1.6 million with an additional $1.8 million in equipment and about $600,000 in furniture, fixtures and computer systems, said Becky Lee, vice president of economic development programs for the college.
The center has six hands-on labs, four dedicated computer labs, six offices, two conference rooms, multiple classrooms and a shipping and receiving area. Space is available for companies to interview job candidates as well, she said.
The labs are advanced composites, mechanical crafts, electrical crafts, automated process controls, advanced manufacturing and reliability maintenance.
The pre-engineering credit program was added this semester, Lee said. The industrial systems labs have existed in other locations and now will be housed under one roof.
“The unique part of this partnership is that it’s a true blend of credit program instruction and noncredit incumbent worker training,” she said.
The center will allow the school to “provide affordable, hands-on training to companies throughout the Southeast that is customized to meet each company’s specific needs,” she said.
LOCAL INDUSTRY PROVIDED INPUT
The only parts remaining of the toy store, which was bought by the Central Georgia Technical College Foundation, is the roof and exterior walls. The interior of the 45,836-square-foot building was designed with the input of local businesses and industries.
“Five or six companies have been with us over five years, and it was their engineers and their human resource people and their training folks that told us what kind of training they needed for incumbent workers,” Lee said.
Some of the things that area manufacturers said they needed include training of process control concepts, lean manufacturing, leadership skills for quality and machine operation, according to information provided by Tonya McClure, assistant vice president of the office of institutional advancement with Central Georgia Tech and executive director of the college’s foundation.
The school is one of the largest two-year colleges in Georgia with an 11-county service delivery area. Established in 1962 with its first students beginning classes in 1966, Central Georgia Tech has been in the business of workforce development for more than 40 years.
The college’s foundation was supported by funds from the Charles H. Jones Family Foundation, the Peyton Anderson Foundation and others, Janet Kelly, assistant vice president of marketing and public relations said. The Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company, also was a major partner in the project and provided equipment and training aids.
“CGTC operates the Instrumentation and Controls Academy, which is a Georgia Power program, through our industrial systems program,” Kelly said. “This credit program will move into this facility. There will also be some training programs conducted in the facility through our economic development department.”
TRAINING TO INCREASE WORKERS’ VALUE
Trane, which manufactures, manages and services HVAC equipment systems or controls in Macon, is a partner of the center. Some of its leaders took a tour of the facility last week.
“In the beginning, we were solicited for advice in what we wanted in the facility,” said Earl Barthel, an operation excellence change agent for Trane. “We gave our input saying basically we wanted to have an area which could teach our new and incumbent associates on the processes and tools that we use at our facilities.”
Jason Myers, general manager of Trane, said the new center will help ramp up the worker job skills it needs.
“If we have an opening and we can bring somebody in who already has the knowledge, who has come through the program (at the center), then he will be more valuable because he will already have the skills that we need,” Myers said.
Trane has about 150 employees in Macon, and most of its work is for commercial uses, such as HVACs for hotel rooms, he said. It does assembly and fabrication work and “a lot of testing of systems,” he said.
Jack Laster, who is a business and industry specialist with the college’s economic development department and has a long background in construction, pointed out during a tour of the building that a conveyor system will be installed with an assembly area at one end and a shipping area at the other end to help teach students the whole process. The conveyor system will be on wheels, so it can be reconfigured as needed.
“The main thought behind (the center) is to make our local industry more profitable by providing low-cost training and good training and help retain them in the area,” Laster.
The college’s technology center is important to attracting and retaining workers and industries, especially for manufacturing, said Pat Topping, senior vice president for the Macon Economic Development Commission. He also was involved in the planning process for the center.
“Advanced manufacturing is by far the most active prospect activity with (the commission),” Topping said.
Advanced manufacturing can mean several things, including the use of innovative technology to improve products or processes, he said.
“Companies looking at areas to relocate or expand to will put ‘access to advanced training’ high on the critical location factors list,” he said. “The Charles H. Jones Advanced Technology Center will allow us to show prospects and existing companies how we can address their training needs now and in the future.
“This center will help differentiate the Middle Georgia area from other communities in the country.”
Myers, with Trane, said more is expected of today’s manufacturing workers than years ago.
“One thing about it is we have to be more competitive,” he said. “We have to be more efficient with (assembly) now. We have to use different tools to do it -- and not just different but with more quality control to make a quality product. ... There are things we expect employees to understand. We want employees to be able to make improvements, so they need to know how to look for improvements.”
The college’s new center is not just to train people for today’s jobs, Lee said.
“We need to know what’s going to happen five or 10 years down the road as well because we want that advanced technology too,” she said.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.