Members of the Bartow Chamber of Commerce’s Committee of 100 toured the quickly evolving site of the Polk State Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center on Friday, constituting the first large group to visit the location.
About 50 business and community leaders gathered in the building’s auditorium, within site of cranes lifting roofing trusses into the air and workers stacking bricks to form walls.
Polk State Corporate College Director Rob Clancey briefed the group on the ultimate impact the new building will have on the area.
“This will be not only a Polk County training center but a regional training center,” he said. “Companies will bring their employees and customers here, boosting the bed tax and the business of local restaurants.”
The Polk State Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center will be located off State Road 60 in Bartow, and will house high-tech degree programs and the Polk State Corporate College, which provides in-demand workforce training for industries as varied as information technology and supply chain management.
Construction began at the 20-acre site in late 2012, but it wasn’t until recent weeks that the building “went vertical” — as they say in the construction business.
“All the floors have been poured, and we have walls,” said Travis Altman, project engineer at Polk State Lakeland.
It’s not just walls that have emerged from the ground, it’s also some of the project’s most recognizable architectural features. Altman explained that two “fins” — walls that protrude from the structure and contribute to its futuristic, high-tech exterior — have also taken shape.
The major focus of the project now is constructing interior walls and the roof, Altman said.
While crews with Rodda Construction and architects Furr & Wegman, the two Polk County-based firms selected to bring the building to fruition, are concentrating on bricks and mortar, Clancey has been forging new partnerships to ensure the most advanced training opportunities for students.
One of the key developments of those new partnerships is a $1-million process training unit that is being sponsored by Rockwell Automation, a leader in industrial automation; Endress + Hauser, a supplier of industrial measurement and automation equipment; TriNova, a provider of measurement and process services for a variety of industries; and AMJ, the Florida division of TriNova.
The PTU, Clancey explained, is exactly the same equipment that students — whether they’re seeking a degree through the College’s Engineering Technology program or completing workforce training through the Corporate College — will use on the job.
“This is the same equipment used by almost all our process plants and juice plants,” Clancey said.
“Having this equipment here will be a huge advantage for our students. As they learn about manufacturing and all the automation and instrumentation that characterizes today’s manufacturing sector, it is imperative that they become acquainted with this technology as early as possible.”
Another key partnership is with RETA, the Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association, which will sponsor an ammonia cooling training system.
“We will be the first RETA training site in the southeast. All the big plants — Publix, Florida’s Natural — should use it,” Clancey said.
In the case of both partnerships, the College will be the beneficiary of industry instructors who will be “embedded” on-site, providing students with their real-world experience.
“We’re not going to be using people who have been out of the industry 10-15 years,” Clancey said.
All of it — the equipment, the partnerships, the instructors — will put the Polk State Corporate College on a whole new map, Clancey said.
“This is going to propel us to become a regional service center,” he said. “We will also become a showroom for the companies’ latest products, which will bring in companies all over the southeast to see us. It’s all going to mean a tremendous amount of exposure.”
During the tour of the site, as Clancey led members of the group through the still under-construction corridors, he fielded a variety of questions, from how many people the building will serve daily — between 250 to 300 — to when the building will open.
Answer: 2014, just in time for the College’s 50th anniversary.
“We started in Bartow at an Army air base,” he said. “Now, 50 years later, we’re coming back to Bartow.”