Work starts at site of new WCCC in Latrobe

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A major step toward construction of Westmoreland County Community College's new satellite campus in downtown Latrobe will be taken this week.

Demolition is to start by Saturday on several business and residential buildings in an area bounded by Depot and Jefferson streets and Loyalhanna Creek, said Ronald Eberhardt, the college's vice president of administrative services.

Once they are cleared by late spring or early summer, construction of the new Laurel Education Center will start. Construction, costing nearly $10 million, will take 10 months to a year and the new center is scheduled to be ready for students by late August 2014, the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

"We are working well with city, county and state officials to get the new center completed,'' he said. "We've gotten the final sign off from the state for the demolition.''

Latrobe officials are glad the college decided to build its new facility downtown, rather than in a suburban location, as had been talked about several years ago.

"We are really excited about this,'' said city Manager Alex Graziani. Moving the college building to the suburbs "would have been a threat to the stability of downtown. Community leaders appealed to the college to look for a downtown site. We give them credit for rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of building this new education center in the downtown area.''

The Latrobe campus now has more than 400 students per semester, full- and part-time, but is growing and should reach 500 in the near future.

"We expect slow, steady growth in the number of students, in a range of 3 percent to 5 percent a year,'' Mr. Eberhardt said. "It's one of our larger education centers.''

Mr. Graziani said, "The college adds vibrancy to the downtown area, and the presence of students benefits shops and other businesses.''

The Laurel center is one of several satellite campuses for the college, whose main campus is in Youngwood. Other education centers are in New Kensington, Waynesburg, Export, Belle Vernon and Indiana, with a total college enrollment of 6,800 full and part-time students.

The new education center is only about 1,000 feet from the former Kennametal Corp. building on Lloyd Avenue, which has housed the school's Latrobe operations since they began in 1989.

Demolition on the new site will be done by A.W. McNabb Co. of Burgettstown, the lowest of four bidders, for $93,500. Demolition may cause some temporary restrictions on traffic, such as closing Bank Street near the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, officials said.

The county redevelopment authority chose McNabb for the work, which includes removing asbestos and removing debris from the site. Money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is being used for the demolition. The state Bureau of Historic Preservation had to sign off on the demolition of several buildings, to make sure no historically significant structures were to be torn down.

Mr. Eberhardt said it would have cost nearly as much to renovate that older building as to build the new one, which will have several cost-saving advantages.

"There were high costs to renovate the existing center,'' he said. "With the new building, we can take advantage of construction efficiencies, plus installing new energy-efficient heating, ventilation and other utilities, as well as more parking. It made more sense to build a new center.''

The total price tag includes construction costs, plus equipment and furniture. The current center has 24,000 square feet, while the new building will be slightly larger, at 30,000 square feet. The architect for the new center is L.R. Kimball & Associates of Ebensburg. The project is still in the design stage and the college hasn't sought construction bids yet.

At the new satellite campus, "We hope to offer more allied health courses,'' Mr. Eberhardt said, such as nursing, dental hygiene, medical terminology and blood-related courses.

"Our college's nursing and dental hygenist programs supply a lot of medical workers to local hospitals and doctors' offices,'' he said "Our students get jobs in the entire tri-state region.''

WCCC is one of 14 community colleges in Pennsylvania, many of which are growing because of higher tuition costs at other private, state-related and state-owned universities. Allegheny, Butler and Beaver counties also have community colleges.

education - neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Tom Barnes: hickeybarnes@yahoo.com or 717-623-1238.


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