LBW Community College breaks ground on construction lab facility

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, January 13, 2024

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Shovels broke ground in Andalusia on Thursday, Jan. 11, at the Lurleen B. Wallace (LBW) Community College Center for Building Construction.

The building is a $3.5 million, 10,000 square-foot project that will facilitate the construction industry’s training needs in the state’s southeastern region.

Alabama Community College System (ACCS) leaders, local public officials, and industry partners broke ground on the development on the northwest side of LBW’s Andalusia campus, between the Jeff Bishop Student Center and the Seth Hammett Gymnasium.

The Center for Building Construction includes one classroom and two labs equipped with state-of-the-art industry equipment needed to train a future workforce with real-life scenarios. Students will train both for the Building Construction Associate of Applied Science Degree and for noncredit skills training for a multitude of areas within the construction industry.

LBWCC President Dr. Brock Kelley

“As we monitor labor market data and five-to-ten-year data projections for our area in growth, retirements, and labor participation rates, this investment into our communities is all the more important,” said LBW President Dr. Brock Kelley. “We are thankful to begin the process of building our next wave of construction professionals in a brand new facility.”

The Center for Building Construction was identified as a needed project after engaging local public officials, community members, workforce partners, labor market data, and population projections to figure how to best align services to more effectively serve communities, meet business and industry workforce needs, and increase overall student success.

Local business partner, Chief Operating Officer of Wright Bros., LLC, Billy Bergfeld said the center is directly in line with workforce needs in the construction industry.

“For years we’ve wanted one place where our workers could train across multiple disciplines within the industry, and I think we’ve finally gotten our wish through LBW’s current training programs and this future center,” Bergfeld said.

“We appreciate a college that listens to our needs and responds, and look forward to working with LBW in any way that we can.”

Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker referred to the project as a “step forward for LBW.” He met with Mayor Earl Johnson one day and discussed the future saying the state’s labor participation rate is at the bottom.

Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker

“He told me he was in need of people with skills to work. Almost 50 percent of students after high school today have no intentions or plans to further improve their education whether it is at a college or pursuing a skill. We must find a way for students, even those in junior high schools, to be exposed to work. We will work with the state legislature to make sure every student in public education is exposed to opportunities that exist and what is required to get there. They will have a certification in some skill or continue on their college career, but we must do a better job at training. With that kind of effort, folks like LBW President Brock Kelley bring an energy level into this center along with the support of local leadership to start the process,” Baker said.

The Center for Building Construction is among various infrastructure projects, at multiple campus locations, that will move forward in the next few years through legislative appropriated funds for capital improvements across Alabama’s community and technical colleges.

Sen. Josh Carnley feels local community leaders have both a vision and a passion.

Sen. Josh Carnley

“Vision and passion are two separate words and used individually, but they are powerful when put together. When I think of Chancellor Baker, President Kelley, and other community college leaders, you see life back in the community college system that was not there 20 or 30 years ago. The community college system can touch every life whether teaching a skill for the workforce or those desiring to go to a higher education. As a legislator, it’s refreshing to allocate and appropriate funds for projects like this. I’m thankful in this community we have an asset to provide for our students,” Carnley said.

State Rep. Matthew Hammett sees a need for students not attending four-year universities to get proper training through dual enrollment.

State Rep. Matthew Hammett

“With the opportunities presented to this county and community, we are going to be able to train these kids. We will have the workforce to do the jobs. I continually preach that this is a need, and I’m so proud for Dr. Kelley’s vision and hard work. I hope we get a lot more things done on Sen. Carnley’s and my terms. I don’t know if I’ll ever be any prouder of anything we get done in the future than we are today,” Hammett said.

According to LBW Building Construction Instructor Andrew Meadows, the construction industry has seen an “unprecedented boom” in recent years. He believes students will be better equipped for real-world experiences after completing the program in the facility.

LBWCC Building Construction Instructor Andrew Meadows

“Many employers have struggled to fill the labor gap referred to earlier. While there have always been opportunities to study and learn about construction, they have largely been at the university level. While being a very good thing, this does not offer the hands-on training and experiences that many employers are looking for today. That is what makes this building so incredible: we will be able to do just that. We will be able to offer education through the traditional classroom and then apply that learning in hands-on, specialized one-on-one training. It is here that we will begin to lay the foundation, stack the blocks, and raise the roofs of knowledge that will leave behind a legacy of well-rounded knowledgeable individuals,” Meadows said.

City of Andalusia Clerk John Thompson stated the project is “terribly important” to the community.

City of Andalusia Clerk John Thompson

“We find ourselves in a unique opportunity to address a tremendous shortage that is our workforce development. This project will go to alleviate that shortage and give us the true foundation of labor. We have several city projects, which will require a stable and skilled workforce for the current time and way out into the future. We look forward to the development of the project, and it’s a super great day in the life of the City of Andalusia and LBW Community College,” Thompson said.

Seay Seay & Litchfield (SS&L) has been selected as the architect on the project.

The Center for Building Construction is expected to open in fall 2024.