The three buildings on Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus gleam with newness and light, the result of a $90 million investment in the two-year college’s future.
The buildings, which just opened for the new school year, include areas for basic student services and tutoring, large spaces for corporate test projects, and labs for hands-on training in construction trades.
A key mission is to train students in trades, such as welding and plumbing, for which there is demand. The $45 million provided for the work by the private sector offers testimony to the need and opportunity for skilled workers. The rest is college money.
A formal grand opening will take place Friday at 1 p.m.
The Lozier Foundation was one of the entities that contributed to the project.
Bob Braun, executive director of the foundation, said people in north Omaha will gain training for jobs that will enable them to support their families.
“That was really the idea behind the (Lozier) grant,” Braun said. “That’s what we cared about.”
The Construction Education Center will house programs in construction technology, electrical technology, plumbing, welding, heating and air conditioning, architectural design and other disciplines. The programs are not new. The new center will consolidate programs that have been scattered around in buildings at Fort Omaha and other campuses.
Dave Horst, director of trades at the school, said the training will enable students to connect electrical wiring, work on plumbing or gain other skills.
“So when we tell them they get real-life experience, it’s pretty much real-life experience,” Horst said.
Clear interior walls enable touring groups to look inside classrooms and labs. Other clear walls expose pipes and electrical lines for teaching purposes. LED lights in some areas change colors and draw attention to open duct work above.
That facility has a vast open space where actual houses can be built and other large projects can be completed.
A second building will enable businesses, workers and students to test and train for the latest industrial technology.
Ryan Bumstead, a 24-year-old student and staffer in the new Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology building, demonstrated the virtual reality lab. With special glasses on, one can use a computer to spin a virtual heart around in 3D, compare a house to its blueprint and watch a butterfly glide.
“I think that, honestly, it’s breathtaking,” Bumstead, a California native, said of the college development near 32nd Street and Sorensen Parkway. “We are going places I never would have expected a community college to have gone.”
In the building where Bumstead works as a services specialist — a utility man for the facility’s many special features — companies will be able to test prototypes, production lines, drones and robots.
Among other features, the Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology contains 3-D printing, laser cutters, a functional data-center lab, plasma cutting technology and a 12,000-square-foot open space in which companies can train people and develop prototypes of devices and parts.
“This is all about industry partnerships,” Tom Pensabene, an associate vice president at Metro, said of the Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology. “It’s all about getting people into a job as quickly as possible.”
The $90 million includes much of the equipment for the buildings and a fourth facility, a central utility plant, that provides hot and cold water to the new places.
Metro President Randy Schmailzl said the buildings grew out of years of strategic planning and discussions with industry representatives.
Metro wants to be the go-to place for trades-related programs in the area, Schmailzl said.
He said it also intends to help its students get started on solid footing in college.
To that end, the Career and Academic Skills Center includes tutoring, math and writing centers, study rooms, laptops that can be checked out for use inside the building, desktop computers that students can use, workshops on time management and test-taking, career services and other features.
Lyric Shivers, a 20-year-old from Omaha who hopes to eventually study special education, said she was dazzled by the Career and Academic Skills Center.
“It was motivating walking in here,” she said. “And they’re stepping up their game here a lot.”
She said it looked like the kind of college facility you see in television shows — the kind she didn’t know existed in real life.