Santa Rosa Junior College on Wednesday officially began building its long-planned 10,000-square-foot construction training center at its 40-acre Petaluma campus.
The project has been more than three years in the making, but has been delayed for reasons that include the pandemic and increased materials costs.
Formally called the North Bay Regional Construction and Building Trades Employment Training Center, the structure is scheduled to be finished in May 2024, with instruction to begin soon afterwards, according to Benjamin Goldstein, dean of agriculture/natural resources, culinary arts, and industrial and trade technologies. He is overseeing the project with Vanessa Luna Shannon, dean of instruction and enrollment management for the Petaluma campus.
The program will offer short-term training in a variety of specialties for certificates, as well as a program that will take one to four semesters to complete. An associate degree program for students in trade union apprenticeships is under development.
“We’ll be hosting some initial classes in the building in the fall semester of 2024, but it’s going to take us (another) year or so to build out the full suite of academic programs,” Goldstein said. Once the center is operating at full capacity, it should be able to produce up to 500 skilled jobseekers each year, according to the college.
SRJC and the Sonoma County Economic Development Board jointly announced in January 2020 an award of $7.12 million in grant funding to build the construction training center. The grant was funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s disaster relief fund. The county’s economic development board also led efforts to secure a $1 million matching grant from the Tipping Point Community Foundation — bringing the total funding to $8.1 million.
But delays followed, initially because of the pandemic, then compounded by the need for more funding because of escalating costs for construction materials due to supply chain issues, Goldstein said. The economic development board ultimately provided another $4 million in funding, which was awarded in September 2022. Bank of America donated $250,000 for the project a year earlier.
On Wednesday, Ukiah-based The Mendocino Companies, owner of sawmills, 440,000 acres of timber forest and biomass energy plants, announced a donation of $100,000 to the center.
With construction now in full gear, Goldstein detailed three “major” programs that are being developed:
- HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration)
- Fire-resilient landscaping
“When we talk about building new housing, and building accessory dwelling units, which now have a much simpler permitting process, the first thing that you need are carpenters,” he said.
The focus on the heating and cooling training aims to fill a long-term need.
“There’s a tremendous amount of money coming from the federal government through the Inflation Reduction Act, and the bipartisan infrastructure law for energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and upgrades in residential homes,” Goldstein said.
Fire-resilient landscaping is currently taught through SRJC’s existing construction management program at its main campus in Santa Rosa, but the fully developed program will bring that education to a whole new level.
“The biggest message I think that we want to send to Sonoma County is we are stepping up to help rebuild this county after years of devastating wildfires, floods, and a housing crisis that is pinching everybody’s wallet and making it very hard to live and work in in this county,” Goldstein said. “And as a community college for the county, it’s our job to develop workforce programs that respond to workforce needs. And construction is a huge workforce need.”