Gov. John Bel Edwards kicks off $7.9 million project for Baton Rouge vocational technology facility

The Advocate

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday kicked off a $7.9 million project to fix up a north Baton Rouge vocational technical facility with the goal of better teaching industrial crafts for waiting jobs.

Walls will be removed and equipment installed at the Baton Rouge Community College Acadian Campus to upgrade instruction in welding, pipefitting, electrical and instrumentation, culinary arts, healthcare and other skill crafts. The plans also calls for Baton Rouge high school students, particularly those at Istrouma High School next door, to take the courses as well.

“This is a substantial renovation project that will not only enable the BRCC Acadian Campus to expand its very successful training initiative, but also provide more opportunities for the community and the city,” Edwards told officials from ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics, and other industrial companies seated in the campus atrium on North Acadian Thruway in a low income neighborhood.

The state will sell bonds to provide $6.9 million. Private companies kicked in another $944,999 in funds and land. The total project is valued at $7,874,999. The project should take a year to complete and hopefully will be ready for the start of the fall semester in August 2018, said Monty Sullivan, system president for the Louisiana Community and Technical Colleges.

“Now more than ever, we must ensure access to life changing academic and workforce training,” Sullivan said in his statement. “The renovation of the BRCC Acadian Campus is a clear message of investment and opportunity for the people of north Baton Rouge.”

The vo-tech school is a little more than a mile from the Triple S Food Mart parking lot where Alton Sterling was shot to death by police officers during an early July 5 altercation. The shooting touched off an especially violent summer in Baton Rouge.

“When we talked last year after the shootings, we recognized that a long-term solution is investment in these schools and in workforce development,” said Adam Knapp, of Baton Rouge Area Chamber after the event.

Nearby businesses have an immediate need for crafts like pipefitting and electronics and instrumentation, according to a recent BRAC survey. The program underway would train workers for those high paying jobs, Knapp said.

The 11,136 households in the neighborhood have average incomes about 40 percent lower than the Baton Rouge area as whole and live with a much higher crime rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

The project was part of a vanguard of investments in a low income neighborhood that has seen little over the years, said James Llorens, interim chief administrative officer for the city-parish government. He was standing in for Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, who is attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“This will offer the opportunity of reliable training and job skills near their homes,” Llorens said.

The project will take advantage of the proximity Istrouma High School, which closed in October 2013 after falling enrollment and failing to meet state standards.

But Istrouma is in the midst of an $18 million makeover and should be admitting 9th and 10 graders in August. The school will be expanding its enrollment to include younger students as well 11th and 12th graders. Part of the renovations will include a walkway linking the high school to the technical college next door.

Students will be able to take classes, for credit, at the vo-tech college while still in high school.

“I’m especially proud of the collaboration between BRCC and Istrouma High School, which shows that it’s never too early to start introducing our young people to programs that will inspire them to continue their education while also improving their chances of finding good paying jobs right here at home,” Edwards said in his statement.

He added that spending for similar renovations and upgraded work development training will be rolled out in coming weeks at other vocational and technical colleges around the state.

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