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Tech center ready to rumble

WHITE CITY — Rogue Community College’s High-Tech Center is ready to put students to work.

Subcontractors scrambled this week to put finishing touches on the six-month renovation of an 11,800-square-foot manufacturing site adjacent to the Table Rock Campus in preparation for the start of fall-term classes on Monday.

The public can tour RCC’s $4.6 million expansion, which included $400,000 for equipment, from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at 7800 Pacific Ave., White City.

The center is a regional cornerstone for high-technology training in manufacturing, welding, engineering and mechatronics — the melding of electronics and mechanical engineering, involving applied motion, hydraulics, pneumatics, programmable logic controls and drive systems.

RCC’s staff believes opportunities afforded by the tech center will quickly translate to high-demand, high-paying jobs for students in two years or less.

“We have a shortage of any kind of trades person in any type of manufacturing,” said Todd Giesbrecht, RCC Welding Department chair. “Right now employees are at a premium, and I think with the advent of this building we’re starting to see more and more people see this as a resource for them to build their skill sets.”

Just inside the door, visitors can observe a production line of modules that take a batch of presorted parts that are automatically transformed into an air valve.

“It teaches our students how to program the machines and service any of the automated equipment in the valley,” Giesbrecht said. “From millwrights to folks at Amy’s Kitchen and Harry & David, that technology applies in all those environments.”

In a large lab in the center of the building is the newest addition to a growing collection of Haas vertical milling machinery. The Haas VF-2 cuts metals — aluminum, titanium, steel, brass, bronze and more — to coded specifications. Students first learn to program by hand, then on computer-aided manufacturing systems, and then advanced master-CAM for complex parts.

“You go to almost any manufacturing or machine shop in this valley and you’re going to see a Haas machine, and that’s one of the main reasons we choose to train with them,” said Stephen Foster, RCC’s manufacturing technology chair. “That’s what everybody wants around here, they want someone who can operate one of these guys.”

The Haas VF-2 joins a VF-1 and a SL-10 computer numerical control lathe, allowing students to learn set-up, operation and programing en route to earning a two-year degree or a one-year certificate.

The center is a leap into the future, said Giesbrecht, whose previous welding instructional space was a cramped facility at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, three miles away on Highway 62. The new space is equipped with 24 industrial-grade welding stations.

“We’re moving from a 1946 facility to a 2018 facility,” Giesbrecht said. “When it was winter, it was 15 degrees colder inside. In the summer, it was 20 degrees hotter. We only had nine active welding stations, so we had to double-up and share a booth, or run longer days so we could get everybody’s hours in.”

Another advantage, he said, is that the diesel technology program is now next-door.

“Our welding students can actually weld for three hours, hop in the manufacturing lab for a couple of hours and then hit the mechatronics lab. So in one day they can cover three distinctly different disciplines that are interrelated.”

There are always hurdles in demolishing an old building and fashioning tech-laboratory space, said Roger Prehn, Adroit Construction project superintendent.

“We had a deadline to be open by the start of the school year, and yes, we’re going to make it,” Prehn said. “A lot of hard work and effort went into it, coordinating with the design team. The subcontractors and workers all performed beyond pace to get it done.”

The lead architectural firm was Kistler, Small and White Architects of Ashland with contributions from Heneberry-Eddy Architects of Portland.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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