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August 18, 2013

Under Construction

Trade students learn by doing, college grows

MERIDIAN —     The Meridian Community College campus is continuing to grow, thanks in part to students who lend their hands and hammers to the construction process.

    Scott Elliott, president of Meridian Community College, said students in the Construction Trades program and in the Industrial Electricity program get first-hand knowledge and experience through working on campus building projects. It helps the college grow and it gives students practical work experience. This helps the college during tight budget times. Also helpful is the work that employees at the Physical Plant do to help renovate buildings on campus.

    "In so many cases we've done things in house, either with our own labor from our staff or through our student programs," Elliott. "We don't really get a lot of money from the state each year for the purpose of renovation and new construction so several years ago we said how can we accomplish some capitol improvements needs and try to kill two birds with one stone?"

    That's when they decided to use the skills that the students were learning by working on campus projects. Contractors do the work that students are not trained to do, he added.

    The program began in 2006 with construction of the MCC Foundation Chapel, which was funded through private dollars and opened in 2007.

    "That was something we had wanted on campus for a long time it was a dream we brought to fruition," Elliott said.

    Each year the students have contributed to additional projects. Each program has between 15 and 20 students per year.

    "One of the first big projects we finished was an E-Learning Center," Elliott said. "Online questions have become very prevalent in education today and we needed a center where students could come and do their tests. The students contributed to mightily to that project."

    Of course it lowers the cost of the projects to have students help, he said.

    "The main thing we've always emphasized is that they get the skills. When we are planning these projects, we keep that in mind that the students must get the skills that they pay for in this program."

    The students have been under the direction of Olin Thomas, Construction Trades program coordinator; and Jim Miles, Industrial Maintenance program coordinator. Retired Industrial Maintenance program coordinator Jerry Humphreys also contributed heavily before his retirement, Elliott said.

    The architect for the student projects has been Arjen Lagendijk.

    "He has done a superlative job of coordinating both the student work and the outsourced work," Elliott said.

    "That can be a rather complex task, but Arjen and his assistant, Don Delaney, have become quite adept at orchestrating these projects."

    A new GED building is in the works now, with students helping. The lot that formerly housed The Spot Restaurant was purchased by MCC and will be the home of the GED program. MCC also purchased the former Department of Public Safety building across the street from the campus and plans to turn it into a program for students in the new Medical Assisting program and also Healthcare Assistants program

    "With students being involved in a lot of the work, it gives them something to look at really for the rest of their lives if they live in this community," Elliott said. "They can come by and tell their kids, 'Hey look. This is a building that I helped to build at MCC.'"

    These projects have been funded through the college's operating budget and with some contributions from the MCC Foundation. Bigger construction projects are funded through state dollars, the amount of which ebbs and flows.

    "One year you might get $500,000; the next year you might get $1 million," Elliott said. "It's never enough in a single year to do an entire project."

    So MCC saves its state bond money until it has accumulated enough to complete a project. The college has saved enough now that it is in the early stages of construction of a new dormitory to replace Eagle Hall, which sits across the highway from campus.

    That project will not involve students, Elliott said. Some projects are not well-suited for students so a general contractor will construct the $10 million, 150-bed three-story dormitory

    "We would rather have all of our students and residents on the same side of the street," Elliott said. "It's not good to have them walking across that highway. It's a safety issue. Also that's an old dormitory that needs to be replaced."

    Businessman Bob Malone donated land behind College Park Shopping Center that will be used to house the new dorm, Elliott said.

    "It's immediately adjacent to our other residents halls and so it was an important donation that he made," Elliott said.

    B.B. Archer is the architect for the dorm construction project.

     Elliott became president of MCC in 1998 and since that time, the college has added roughly 300,000 square feet to its physical plant and has gone from 21 buildings to a total of 48. The campus has expanded to 94 acres, Elliott said.

     "When people come out here and we show them this, they say 'I just can't believe what you've done here,'" Elliott said. "It's been a real win-win situation. Our students have gotten the skills and our college has benefited from adding these facilities."

    Combined with the University Transfer Program and the Career and Technical Education programs, there are 52 programs offered at MCC. In addition, the college has  a model workforce training program and a comprehensive business development center.

    MCC serves some 4,000 college credit students and another 4,000 in continuing education, community service and enrichment programs. Day, night and weekend classes as well as distant education courses are scheduled throughout the year.

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