Largest and most impactful CDL education center is ready for action

Published 12:30 am Sunday, July 30, 2023

There was plenty of celebration recently as Lamar State College Port Arthur leaders welcomed county and state officials to the grand opening of the CDL Education & Examination Center.

The project includes 24 acres of land donated by Jefferson County and is a joint venture between the college, Jefferson County and T.L.L. Temple Foundation.

It sits beyond a curve in the road on FM 3514 in Beaumont and includes several buildings and ample training grounds for what officials boast is the biggest and best commercial driver training school in Texas.

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The center is designed to double the size of any of the current Texas mega testing center, said Ben Stafford, dean of workforce and continuing education.

Following Friday’s celebration, Stafford shared that exams are currently being held at the facility and classes are being transferred there in late August.

The list of speakers at the grand opening included College President Dr. Betty Reynard, Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, Stafford, U.S. Department of Commerce Regional Director Jorge Ayala, Temple Foundation CEO Dr. Wynn Rosser and Jefferson County Commissioner Michael “Shane” Sinegal.

The center is located in Sinegal’s Precinct 3.

He is very excited and beyond proud to see the build up lead to a facility he predicts will impact Port Arthur, the region and the entire nation.

“As a commissioner who needs CDL drivers as a must, I understand the shortage,” Sinegal said. “I have watched Dr. Reynard trying to maintain everything on her campus, so this was a no brainer. This is big. This is huge.”

Calling on his career of 20 years in education and role as a Port Arthur native, he said it is imperative for local residents to take advantage of this facility and career options it promises to provide.

“They say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink,” Sinegal said. “I mean the opportunity is going to be big. There is funding by the EDC and other grants that Dr. Renard will offer. (Residents) need to take advantage of that. School districts need to take advantage of this. The county needs to take advantage of this. We put it here; it’s up to the person to take advantage of this.”

Citing the high rate of recidivism locally and nationwide, Sinegal said even the local prison system needs to take advantage of the facility, adding a potential tie-in could be next.

The first phase of the project promises to train future industry workers and also features tanker trailer loading stations, a functional tank farm and a rail tanker loading simulation and maritime vessel tanker loading simulation.

What is offered

One of the buildings on site will house 25 to 30 examiners in a big room with computers around the walls.

As each examiner finishes with a test, they would go to the building, sit down at a computer and then go out to the next test.

The 18-wheelers will pull forward to two big covered shelters that will hold two trucks on each side. This is where pre-trip exams are done.

Truck drivers are able to pull out to the test lanes, where they will back up, perform parallel parking and angle parking.

Stafford said the drive lanes are 500 feet long.

There is also a pre-trip exam, a backing and parking exam and then a driving exam.

Phases 2-4

Phases 2-4 are in partnership between the college, Emerson Automation Solutions and Scallon Controls.

An early look at the plans shows innovation and a look to the future of CDL training.

Phase 2 consists of adding two tanker trailer-loading stations and is scheduled to be completed in 2024.

“This will allow the college to teach students techniques for loading liquids and possibly pressurized gasses on to and off of motor vehicle tanker trailers,” Stafford previously told Port Arthur Newsmedia.

He explained the college will not just train a person to drive but how to appropriately load a tanker vessel.

Phase 3, which could be complete by Spring 2025, adds a functional tank farm consisting of four to six vessels.

The vessels tie to the tanker trailer loading simulators via pumps and an overhead pipe rack. Once the tank farm is installed and functional, the college will begin to offer a certificate in tank farm management.

Phase 4, which is set for completion in late 2026, adds a rail tanker simulation and maritime vessel tanker loading simulation.

Each of these simulations would have loading vessels next to them and tie to the tank yard via pumps and an overhead pipe rack. Once the rail and maritime simulations are installed, the college can begin offering a certificate in terminal management.

The goal is to build a small refinery to allow students hands-on training.

This, college officials say, is something that doesn’t exist in the State of Texas at this point.

“And that’s when we can teach an entire certification and terminal management,” Stafford said.

More career opportunities are added as each piece of the plan comes together.

Port Arthur Newsmedia’s Candace Hemelt, Mary Meaux and Natalie Picazo contributed to this report.