West Virginia Northern Community College Plans $4.7M Facility in East Wheeling
WHEELING — To meet the demands of ongoing growth in the oil and natural gas industry, West Virginia Northern Community College will open a new $4.7 million Industrial Technology Center in East Wheeling — the school’s fifth building in the downtown area — for the fall 2018 semester.
Construction is ongoing so the college can house both its welding and petroleum technology programs in a 20,000-square-foot structure at 1803 Eoff St., a building formerly owned by Wesco Distribution. College officials said the welding and petroleum tech courses have limited space inside the Applied Technology Center, which is the building that now occupies the former Straub Honda site at the corner of 16th and Market streets.
“With this new facility, we are taking a proactive approach to meet employer needs and to position our students to be successful in a regional job market,” WVNCC President Vicki Riley said. “This is another example of how West Virginia Northern Community College is committed to economic development and the communities we serve.”
On Friday, Riley and other college officials offered a tour of the college’s latest expansion. Several years ago, the institution acquired the former Straub sites on the corners of 16th and Market streets from the Ohio County Commission. One of these buildings now houses the technology programs, while the other is the Student Union and Barnes & Noble bookstore.
The college’s main Wheeling structure is the B&O Building on 16th Street, while it also has another building known as the Education Center on 17th Street between Chapline and Eoff streets.
“The space for welding and petroleum technology is very limited now,” said Larry Tackett, college vice president of economic and workforce development. “We are anticipating the need for more welders in this region. This will allow us to have 20 booths for our welding program instead of just eight. Plus, they will have room to do some real-world pipe welding in this new building.”
The building at the corner of 16th and Market streets will continue to house the eight welding booths for use by other programs, while the heating, ventilation and air conditioning program will have room to expand, Tackett said.
Riley and Jeff Sayre, chief financial officer and vice president of administrative services, said the college met the $4.7 million price tag with “institutional dollars” the college managed to save. They said students should not expect to pay for the new building through a tuition increase.
The need for certified welders seems destined to continue as billions of dollars worth of pipeline and processing infrastructure remain on the drawing board for the Marcellus and Utica shale region. The demand could expand further with area leaders still awaiting word on whether PTT Global Chemical will build an ethane cracker near Dilles Bottom in Belmont County, and an anticipated $83.7 billion investment over the next 20 years by a Chinese firm in oil and gas projects in West Virginia.
At this point, WVNCC petroleum technology instructor Curt Hippensteel must travel across town with his students to get them to the outdoor lab, which features pipelines, valves and other oilfield equipment. Relocating the classroom instruction portion of the program to the former Wesco building will allow much easier access to the outdoor lab.
During the Friday tour, Sayre said he believed the Wesco building opened sometime in the 1940s. The opening of the U.S. 250/W.Va. 2 bypass in the early 1980s has made reaching the building a bit of a challenge, even though it is highly visible by those exiting or entering the highway from the south end of downtown.
The easiest way to access the building is to travel to Jacob Street via 16th Street before turning south toward Wheeling Creek and turning right on 19th Street.
Sayre said the new facility will also feature an unspecified area, which can be modeled to train workers in whatever field features the greatest demand.
“Being a community college, we have the ability of being flexible. Whatever the demands are, we will have the space to meet them,” Sayre said.