Trades student Amanda Hodgson of Armstrong chats with Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton during a tour of the new trades centre being built at the Kalamalka campus Monday. (Jennifer Smith/Morning Star)

Trades centre opens doors in Vernon this summer

New facility at Okanagan College Vernon campus will train 150 students a year, addressing skills gap

Overlooking Kalamalka Lake, the new $6.2-million Trades Training Centre at Vernon’s Okanagan College is nearing completion.

With the first students slated to get in the building Aug. 1, the new centre will help address the province’s skills gap by training approximately 150 students per year for the workforce.

The 13,450-square-foot facility features state-of-the-art equipment and will establish itself as a trades training hub for the North Okanagan.

“Now they are getting facilities that match the quality of instruction,” said OC President Jim Hamilton.

Currently, trades training programs are run out of a much smaller space at the aerospace campus at the Vernon airport.

Hamilton’s son was one of the first students to go through the trades program when it first started and said compared to the new building, the old space is more like a shed.

The space works, but it is small and dated, confirms Armstrong’s Amanda Hodgson, who is in the general trades program to become an electrician.

“We have what we need where we are but some of it’s run down,” said the 26-year-old, while touring the new facility last week.

“Just being here and being close to everything else on campus, because we’re so separate and we don’t have the cafeteria and the library, just having all those resources will be good.”

Kalvin Blaeser, a Grade 12 Vernon Secondary student in the dual-credit program, has also been training at the old facility. He joined the tour of the new building and loves it.

“It’s really nice, I like how they show everything, it’s visible, all the electrical and everything,” said Blaser, who is eyeing an electrical job at BC Hydro.

Compared to the existing facilities, the size alone is impressive.

“Ours is probably the size of this one room,” said Blaser, while in one of the three main shops.

Each of the shops is versatile and can be tailored to different programs. A tool crib, change rooms and bathroom facilities and a flex area for hand tool stations.

Built to minimum LEED gold standard, the project includes a rooftop solar photovoltaic array for electricity generation.

“That should account for approximately 75 per cent of all the building’s energy needs, so that will be a great help to reduce the environmental impact of the building,” said Mike Donohoe, project manager with Maple Reinders.

The new centre will see a diverse set of students come through the doors for the following programs:

– Aboriginal trades training

– Carpentry

– Electrical

– Gateway to the Trades (Youth Explore Trades Sampler)

– Plumbing and Pipefitting (starting Aug. 1)

– Residential Construction

– Welding

– Women in Trades Training (starting September)

“We’ve got the first year planned out and we’re starting to plan the second year,” said Jane Lister, regional dean for the Vernon campus.

The new facility will also eliminate the need for travel for some of the trades students, according to Okanagan College Foundation chairman Michael Tindall.

“There’s a lot of kids from the North Okanagan travelling down to Kelowna every day,” said Tindall. “So having a building here for them will be fabulous.”

Adds Hamilton: “It’s another reason for people, and opportunity for people, to study close to home.”

The provincial government has supported the construction with $2.9 million and the federal government has invested $2.7 million.

The remainder, plus funds for outfitting the building and scholarships, is being raised by the Okanagan College Foundation, which is just shy of its $1 million goal.

“We’ve raised $890,000 and we’d really like some more donations to reach the $1 million mark,” said Tindall. “The campaign is not over yet.”

A couple of major donors, Kal Tire and George Galbraith, came up with half a million for the project, FortisBC made a major contribution and other community support has been tremendous said Tindall.

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Mike Donohoe, project manager with Maple Reinders, shows off the new trades centre under construction at Okanagan College in Vernon Monday. (Jennifer Smith/Morning Star)

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