Students enjoying new ‘absolutely amazing’ renovated welding shop
Story and photos by Katherine Miller and James Hill | 3 comments
For Mariya Hawkins, the new welding shop at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus couldn’t be better.
“I love the new shop. It is absolutely amazing,” she said. “The technology that they have put into this shop is amazing.”
Hawkins’ new learning environment came about when voters in PCC’s educational district approved a bond measure in 2017. Last year, the college’s Office of Planning & Capital Construction (P&CC) initiated a $6 million remodel of the old and outdated facility at the campus in Building 2. As a result, work has transformed the old shop into a 10,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art welding facility that instructors call the best of its kind on the West Coast.
The more sustainable shop now can better train students on the latest technology and help them prepare to enter any related job in the industry. Hawkins, a St. Helens resident, started the welding program back in fall of 2019 and is working toward her Associate of Applied Science in Welding Technology. Once she graduates this June, she is looking to join UA 290 and find work as a pipefitter. She said the learning environment is so much better for her and her classmates.
“For instance, the ventilation system that was there before was loud and the instructors had to yell over the fans,” she said. “With the new system, it is so much easier to talk at normal levels while it is on. Another thing is that there is more room in the shop to move around.”
Industry Demand Sparks Remodel
Students like Hawkins are becoming more and more critical to the future of the region’s economy. Welders are retiring and industry demand for entry-level workers is rising for the foreseeable future.
With this pressure to find new workers, PCC’s 50-year-old Welding Technology Program shop had become outdated. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the shop was tight on space for students and instructors, and its previous 65 booths could only be used for single-process welding techniques, some of which are no longer in demand. Plus, with classes being offered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, every aspect of the shop was being taxed, according to welding instructors.
“Given this demand, and the advances in facilities and welding equipment technology, the shop was due for major technological upgrades,” said PCC Welding Instructor Matt Scott. “It is imperative to have a facility to support this dynamic educational venture. We are now better able to provide students with the real world experience and skills that employers demand.”
Safety, Sustainability Improvements Featured
The new shop features a new manifold system and 58 new welding booths, three of which are ADA accessible. Many of the stations are larger to accommodate large-scale projects and students can learn and practice any type of welding — including robotics — at all of the booths. This overall flexibility of the welding stations serves the program’s flexible scheduling and self-paced “open-entry, open-exit” format that allows students a clear pathway to earning their associate degree or certificate.
Sustainability was also a big impetus for the shop remodel. The biggest energy drain by the space was the centralized exhaust fans that were constantly running. The remodel made it so exhaust is only used in the booths where welding is going on and at the other booths the exhaust systems are off. Thanks to this development, the shop is projected to save 262,950 kwh and 28,214 therms annually. The expected $42,000 annual savings in utility costs represent a significant sum considering the square footage of the space.
New safety equipment was installed with plugs that prevent students from suffering electrical charges when welding equipment is handled incorrectly. Plus, new welding curtains were added, and improvements in air circulation and the new exhaust system protect users more fully against fumes and particulates.
“Students are loving it,” Scott said. “Everyone has been blown away.”
Hawkins can attest to that. She can hardly stay away from the welding booth and is excited that the benefits of the facility are going to translate into a great career once she graduates in June, she said.
“Ever since I started welding back in high school it has honestly been my passion and I have just rolled with it,” Hawkins said. “I am excited for the career and future that welding is taking me.”