(TNS) — In a few weeks, voters will be asked their opinion on supporting a bond measure to fund construction of a new technical education facility at State Fair Community College. To better understand the need for such a facility, the Democrat took a tour of the current facilities at SFCC and spoke with instructors who would be impacted.

By the numbers

SFCC is asking voters in its taxing district -- Benton and Pettis counties, Otterville R-VI School District, and portions of Henry, Morgan, Johnson and Saline counties --to pass a $28 million general obligation bond. In addition to constructing a new 116,000-square-foot building, the bond would help fund the renovation of existing technical education facilities.

The college's tax levy rate is 40.8 cents per $100 assessed valuation, which virtually hasn't changed since the college district was founded in 1966. If the bond passes, it would increase by 25 cents until the bond sunsets in 20 years. SFCC has estimated it will cost the average homeowner about $48 a year.

Automotive Technology, Construction Management, Engineering Design, Industrial Maintenance, Precision Machining, and Welding programs will move to the new building, allowing program expansion. Three of the CTC's (Career and Technical Center) eight programs -- Automotive Service Technology, Precision Machining and Welding -- would move to the new facility.

The new facility would allow for three new programs -- diesel technology, agriculture mechanics and HVAC/advanced environmental systems.

Need for space

Mark Kelchner, Dean of Career and Technical Education, led the Democrat's tour of Fielding Technical Center, which was built in 1978. With full classes over the last year, classes run from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. most days due to lack of rooms, he said. The new center includes space for 25 classrooms, 14 labs and 13 overhead doors on the main floor.

"We're strategic in the way we set up class time," said Justin Wright, program coordinator of precision machining technology. "Lots of times I'm going out into the shop while the next class is going in. Sometimes even instructors will be setting up for their next class while you're still in class. It's a double-edged sword, it's good you have that many classes going through there, but you need more classrooms to fulfill them."

CTC offers technical training to juniors and seniors from 13 area high schools. CTC and SFCC students share much of the lab space in Fielding. Moving most of the SFCC technical programs to the new center would allow CTC to expand in Fielding.

Now, sometimes as many as three classes are in the cramped welding lab.

"A few years ago we cleared the (mezzanine) out and put about 14 booths up here so the college can have classes in the morning," Kelchner explained. "Until then, the college couldn't have class until 3 in the afternoon (because of CTC classes)."

Two storage units were purchased and placed outside Fielding to help with storage, as one of the bays for automotive tech was unusable because it was filled with equipment. Even with the extra storage units, many classrooms are lined with equipment, as there still isn't enough space.

Safety issues

As Kelchner explained, there are welding booths on both levels of the welding area, and the mezzanine booths are almost touching each other.

"It's a challenge -- upstairs if you want to go in a booth in the back you interrupt the first two booths of students to get back there," said Allen Strange, program coordinator and welding instructor. "(Lead instructor Carl Mounce) has a layout class, they're small projects ... They have to build outside. Some days that's a little challenging when the weather doesn't cooperate."

Mounce added that the temperature can be more than 100 degrees on some days when students are welding.

In the new center, Strange said students would have more area to weld and grind inside, which is safer and more environmentally friendly.

The men added that the facility is also at its max for electric power. Even if they had space for more equipment, there's not enough power to support it.

Helping the community

The LearningForce, the college's continuing education and customized training division, would also move to the new building.

More space would mean expanded opportunities for local manufacturer training. SFCC helps train a number of large companies in the area and Wright said they prefer the employees come to SFCC for class so they're uninterrupted, but that lack of space comes into play again. Strange said they have trained Maxion Wheels employees, but can only do so during the summer when there's time.

Kelchner said by 2024, demand is expected to increase anywhere from 10 to 20 percent for many of the jobs SFCC trains students for. For example, Strange said the Department of Labor estimates there's 150,000 open jobs for welders in the U.S., which is expected to grow to 300,000 by 2020. The welding program at SFCC has grown by 200 percent since 2011, according to information from SFCC.

"Finding a job for our students hasn't been difficult at all," Strange added. "Usually we have companies calling us looking for employees. We have one student, he is working at Caterpillar in Manhattan, Kansas. They call me every year asking if we have anyone to send their way."

All the faculty the Democrat spoke to said a large part of the need for a new tech center is to allow SFCC to continue providing a quality, educated workforce for Sedalia.

"We feel like we give industry a well-rounded student whenever they come out of here," Wright said. "... Our current average age for skilled tool or machinists is in their 50s. Not that those guys don't still have a ton of time left. In the industry we're trying to bring up the next generation while we're working our current generation. I came out of a shop and that was our problem -- we couldn't hire young people with some background, we were calling people who had retired back because it's hard finding that skilled workforce."

Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.

©2017 The Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Mo.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.