ABBEVILLE — The $5.3 million in major renovations at South Louisiana Community College’s Gulf Area campus in Abbeville represents a “new future for higher education in Vermilion Parish,” college Chancellor Natalie Harder said Monday during the official grand opening of the renovated grounds.
With the changes, the campus is prepared to offer more diverse technical programs and respond to the workforce needs in the area, Harder said.
The changes are part of a major overhaul of community and technical college campuses. The state Legislature authorized financing — through Act 391 in 2007 — to support 23 capital outlay projects at 14 community and technical colleges around the state.
To date, five campuses have undergone extensive renovations or new construction, said Stephen Smith, a Louisiana Community and Technical College System board member.
Smith is also president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Facilities Corp., a third-party, nonprofit organization to facilitate the major projects.
In August, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System held a ribbon cutting for the completed expansion of the Young Memorial campus in Morgan City.
Work at several more campuses, including the Evangeline campus in St. Martinville, is planned or in progress, he said.
In St. Martinville, a new $9 million campus will be constructed and the project could go out to bid within the next 60 days, Smith said.
In all, the projects involve 1 million square feet of educational space, he said.
The infrastructure improvements now “reflect the quality of programs” offered on the campuses, said Joe May, system president.
During the opening ceremony, May asked students in the crowd to raise their hands. The same hands shot up again in response to May’s follow-up question: “How many of you want a job?”
The system’s campuses play a major role in preparing the state’s workforce, May said.
During the ceremony, Gov. Bobby Jindal said 70 percent of employers count finding skilled workers as one of the top two factors in a decision on whether to set up shop in Louisiana, and the system’s Day One Guarantee, a system program to provide employers’ job-ready workers, has helped attract business and industry to the state.
He said the state is making headway in reversing the “brain drain” of educated and skilled residents moving out of Louisiana, and workforce training offered on the campuses are needed to continue that progress.
The Gulf Area campus offers several programs, including cosmetology, computer electronics and office systems technology, welding, design and drafting, industrial mechanics and several health occupation programs such as nurse assistant and practical nursing.
All five buildings on the campus were renovated. The main classroom building on the campus was in need of significant structural repair and had major renovations that also involved expanding departments such as health occupations. The department now takes up the second floor of the building, and lab space was added.
“It’s given us an opportunity to expand,” said Linda White, head of the health occupations department. “We can accommodate more students and programs.”
She said the college is considering adding: veterinarian assistant and mental health technician training programs as well as a preceptor nursing assistant program in collaboration with local nursing homes.
Harder said the renovation sets the campus up to offer a more diverse offering of technical programs.
As of July 1, the technical college, along with six others in the seven-parish Acadiana area, merged with SLCC. The Abbeville campus now offers 24 general education courses and serves 351 high school students who are earning college credit by being enrolled on the campus, Harder said.