TCC prepares for next generation of energy workers

A. Lee Graham

Tarrant County College vows to reinvent energy education for the modern age, instilling students with alternative energy know-how in what planners call an unprecedented area resource. “The Energy Technology Center will be the largest facility of its type in the nation,” said district Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley, prompting applause at March 3 groundbreaking ceremonies for the South Campus facility. “The ETC [Energy Technology Center] will showcase forward-thinking technologies and concepts,” said Hadley, referring to using exposed building components as teaching tools.

When open in August 2015, the $33 million resource will allow the campus to expand its heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technology programs. But perhaps more importantly, it will offer new curriculum rooted in geothermal technology, wind generation, solar, and oil and gas technology. Gathered within the school’s automotive building due to icy weather outside, faculty, elected officials and students praised the campus’ first building in 40 years. The 87,000-square-foot structure will occupy land northeast of the automotive building, east of Interstate 20 and south of Joe B. Rushing Road. “It is designed to be a living teaching and learning environment,” said Hadley, referring to its unique construction. Exposed chilled water piping and color-coded labels are intended as teaching tools, allowing students a real-life view of classroom curriculum. The building’s $33 million price tag will be funded over three years from the renewable and replacement portion of the district’s operating budget. “This will be a much-needed upgrade,” said district board trustee Bill Greenhill. “What’s really important for me and the board is it allows us to expand into these new programs,” said Greenhill, referring to wind generation, solar energy and oil and gas technology. Board President Louise Appleman agreed. “That will be a new arm of it: the oil and gas training. We already do training in heating and air conditioning, and this will just broaden what we can provide,” Appleman said.

Though not up to speed on project plans, another area educator said the center’s strengths will transcend the district. “I don’t know the details, but there is a big need for those things,” said Ken Morgan, director of Texas Christian University’s Energy Institute, referring to local resources for energy education. “Lots of training for the energy industry is needed, and this sounds like a great resource,” Morgan said. It could foster new education and training partnerships between the colleges, among others, officials from both schools agreed. “It’s certainly a possibility and wouldn’t be far-fetched at all,” said Peter Jordan, South Campus president. “ What such a collaboration would entail has not been discussed, but Jordan and Morgan said they would be open to discuss potential partnerships in the future. In the meantime, construction is expected to begin in mid-March after project architect Freese and Nichols Inc. secures a grading permit. That was expected to occur as early as the week of March 3, according to Allen McRee, architecture group manager and an associate with the Fort Worth-based engineering and architectural firm. Serving as lead contractor is Archer Western Contractors, the Irving-based operation of Chicago firm Walsh Construction. Serving as project partner is Carcon Industries of Dallas. With oil and natural gas drilling ramping up in the Eagle Ford Shale, among other locations, the timing seems right to boost energy education, McRee agreed. “I think that’s probably right,” McRee said of an energy industry that many believe is revving into gear once again. District planners hope to match that momentum by pursuing alternative energy; namely, solar power. “This is our first architectural project [for the district] where we’ve made use of solar panels,” said McRee, referring to a photovoltaic solar canopy shading the energy center’s courtyard bridging its two buildings. The solar shade will perform two functions: reduce energy consumption and shield students from scorching summer heat. Freese and Nichols has installed such technology in some Tarrant Regional Water District administrative buildings in north Fort Worth, but not for Tarrant County College. “We’ve had smaller projects at Tarrant County College, but not of this magnitude,” McRee said. The Energy Technology Center promises 10 classrooms, 18 labs and 6,200 square feet of so-called “sticky spaces” that encourage student interaction and learning. Also part of the building will be a multipurpose hall able to accommodate up to 150 students. The facility is designed to achieve LEED Gold designation, meeting standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold status, with the ultimate goal to achieve LEED Platinum certification. “I can hardly wait to look through the walls that will expose the color-coded mechanical structure, and to see the use of solar panels and the other renewable energy strategies,” Appleman said. “It is truly a green building in every sense of the word.”

- FWBP Digital Partners -