Washington County Career Center outdoor tech facility becoming more realistic

A project to provide tech students at the Washington County Career Center with a realistic experience working outdoors on the type of equipment they would encounter in a typical Mid-Ohio Valley industrial plant went into action last year.

Last week, funding was confirmed for Phase II of the project – more than $100,000 to install a typical control system to operate the various pumps, motors and other mechnical devices that make up the industrial facility.

The grants have been approved and are pending, said Tony Huffman, career center director of adult training, on Monday.

“It will change the system from manual to automated,” Huffman said. “Plants usually have a control room, but what we have right now is manual – if you want to close a valve or start a motor, you have to physically go out and do it. We’ll use these grants to purchase PLCs – Programmable Logic Controls, which are like the computers behind the operation of a plant.”

The grants are coming from several sources, he said, including about $75,000 from the Ohio Department of Education and approximately $50,000 from the Marietta Community Foundation, Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, the Ross Foundation, and the Bernard McDonough Foundation.

The addition of automation will offer a more useful experience for the technical students, Huffman said.

“It can simulate a real plant process. Now they can practice pulling and replacing a valve or a pump, but with the PLC system, an instructor can cause part of the system to fail and then see whether the students are able to isolate the problem and fix it,” he said.

Late Monday afternoon, about 85 students arrived at the adult tech training center for orientation, with the second quarter of the year beginning. About a fourth of them were taking chemical operator or chemical technician courses with Jeff DeLong, who also is a maintenance training specialist at DuPont. The chemical operator course can be taken in a quarter; the chemical technician course is nine months.

“Since we’re had the outdoor industrial facilities, my courses are running about four weeks ahead of schedule,” DeLong said. “It really brings it to life, takes it to the next level. In a classroom with PowerPoint, you can only get so far.”

Students agreed, standing at the facility, nestled between the center’s two main buildings. Elevated and ground level tanks sprouted pipes embellished with valves and attached to electric motors.

“This is way, way better than the classroom,” said Zach Zills of New Martinsville, W.Va. “I’m in the application line at Westlake (Chemical).”

Kiel Patterson of Fleming said his outlook is positive for landing a job when he gets out of the course in a few months.

“This is going to give me the bigger edge I need,” he said.

Amanda Roberts, 40, already works in a West Virginia plant but said she wants to strengthen her credentials and move up the ladder.

DeLong said the Phase II grants will allow the center to set up a remote control center in the adult tech building.

“It’ll be like a real plant,” he said. “We’re going to make them ready as possible.”

This course and the facility is what employers in the area want, DeLong said. In January, 18 new hires from Kraton Polymers got their initial training at the center.

“They’re part of our advisory board, and this is what they’re telling us they need,” he said.