Update for January 29, 2015

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Hondo pursues government grant for new welding school at STRTC

By William Hoover
Anvil Herald Correspondent

The City of Hondo is moving forward with plans to obtain an economic development grant to build a new welding school annex as an addition to the South Texas Regional Training Center.

If the sought-after grant from the United States Economic Development Administration is approved, construction of the building would begin in 2016 with the offering of classes to local high school students targeted for Fall 2016 or Spring 2017.

The STRTC as structured can currently accommodate academic and vocational courses that do not require heavy equipment or ventilation.

However, to accommodate the offering of classes like welding, auto mechanics, construction, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and plumbing, the city needs a building suited for those purposes, explained Economic Development Director Jesse Perez.

“We have applied for a USEDA grant to be able to build an additional building at the South Texas Regional Training Center,” said City Manager Jeff Litchfield on Monday. “The welding annex would be a new building, about 8,000 square feet that could be used for metal fabrication trades. We would have welding booths and classrooms for welding, as well as pipe-fitting and other related technical trades.”

The estimated cost of the building is $1.2 million and the city hopes the grant covers 80% of the project costs, according to Litchfield. Under the $1.2 million request, EDA would provide the city $960,000 contingent on a $240,000 match from the city.

“We submitted the grant for first pass-through and they should decide if it’s a viable USEDA project,” he said. “If they do, we will submit a more formal document after doing some engineering work.”

“If this happens, the city would work with Goodwill Industries to provide the welding and trades training,” he added. “Goodwill Industries does this in Corpus Christi at the Craft Training Center. Several of us have recently been down there to tour that center. They offer training to students from about 18 area high schools to take (metal) industry trades.”

Once the daytime training classes for local high school students are up and running, Litchfield said the plan is to offer welding and trade classes to the adult community in the evenings.

“Goodwill would begin by offering welding, pipefitting and those types things,” he said. “Later on, we hope to add plumbing, HVAC training and those kinds of skills.”

Although gas prices have fallen, threatening the viability of the boom in the Eagle Ford Shale, there have always been ample career opportunities for welders and those trained in other fabrication and service trades, noted Litchfield.

“There are still plenty of jobs,” he said. “I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about a kid from Texas in his early 20s who learned to weld and he made $140,000 last year. We think there are big opportunities for welders besides what is needed on farms and ranches or in the oil field. The jobs are still out there. All types of industries need welders.”

“Companies like VT and Hondo Aerospace need specialized ladders, racks and other things built all the time and that involves custom welding,” he said. “There are many, many welding needs outside the Eagle Ford region and the oil industry.”

The city will know this summer if the USEDA grant award is forthcoming, according to Litchfield. Construction would then begin on the annex on a seven-acre site just north of STRTC in late 2015.

“If it comes to fruition, it would probably be well into 2016 before the building is completed,” he said. “The airport would contribute about seven acres of land for the building site.”

Regarding academic courses, Litchfield said Concordia University is now offering a Masters of Education Degree and a Bachelors degree for teachers’ aides at the training center. The first group of enrollees in the masters degree program for teachers is due to graduate in May of this year.

Concordia also recently coordinated with Hondo Aerospace, as the two entities are making plans to offer a bachelor of arts degree program to pilot trainees seeking flight certification. The classes are intended to enhance the education of student pilots who enroll in the Aviation Academy of America.


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