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Reenvisioned armory becoming craft training facility to quickly connect well-paying jobs to residents

Lamar State College Port Arthur received this week a $4.8 million grant that, with additional local matching funds, will reach $6 million to help renovate the existing Armory building, located along Lakeshore Drive.

The grant is part of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration efforts to help Texas prepare for natural disasters and promote economic resiliency and business growth.

The growth of the college’s physical presence is an effort to keep up with demand as the student population continues to grow at Lamar State College Port Arthur.

Over a four-year period since 2015, enrollment at LSCPA has increased 52.1 percent with the Fall 2019 mark of 2,741 students hitting an all-time high in the College’s history.

The cavernous three-story building on Lakeshore Drive alongside the LSCPA softball field has stood mostly vacant for nearly a decade. The occasional welding class and dressing rooms for the Seahawks softball team have made the building home.

The Armory, once used by the U.S. military prior to being donated to the college, will soon become home to a state-of-the-art craft training facility that will provide education opportunities to help local residents quickly get well-paying jobs.

The grant’s intent is to serve as a job catalyst to support the economic recovery in an area impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The project is expected to create 167 jobs.

“Craft training differs from degree programs in that it focuses on short-term training designed to bring a student quickly into the workforce at a profitable wage,” said Dr. Ben Stafford, Dean of Workforce Training and Continuing Education and author of the grant. “This center will train craftsmen for all of the local expansion projects.”

Once the 23,000 square foot building is retrofitted, the college will be able to offer training in welding, scaffold building, pipefitting, rigging, structural steel, electrical, instrumentation, carpentry, concrete work and a wide variety of safety training.

The College will be partnering with Bechtel Engineering to offer five craft apprenticeships, Stafford explained.

Once students complete their College training, they will be interviewed by Bechtel. Those hired will proceed into 1,000 hours of paid on-the-job-training.

At the completion of their apprenticeship they will enter the workforce just one step below a Journeyman.

“While it is common to see advanced simulation in degreed programs,” Stafford said, “this craft training center will be one-of-a-kind in bringing realistic industry conditions into the College training environment.”

The facility will include classrooms, labs, office space and will continue to be home to the school’s softball program. Construction on the upgrades is expected to begin in late 2019.

The City of Port Arthur’s Economic Development Corporation is contributing $1 million toward the matching fund requirement, while Bechtel is donating equipment to cover the additional matching amount. With the initial grant, the total investment will be $6 million.

“In 2018, EDA made $587 million in Congressional supplemental appropriations available to eligible grantees in communities impacted by natural disasters in 2017,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Dr. John Fleming. “We are pleased to support Texas communities, including several in Opportunity Zones, as they work to diversify and strengthen the State’s economy.”

— Submitted by Gerry L. Dickert, public information coordinator for Lamar State College Port Arthur