Aims to build expansion building for new oil, gas and agriculture programs
June 27--While colleges and universities across the state are cutting budgets, freezing salaries and putting capital construction on hold indefinitely, Aims Community College is taking a different approach.
The college is preparing to break ground on a $9 million, 40,000-square-foot facility at its Fort Lupton campus that will focus on two industries that administrators and board members believe are the heart of Weld County -- agriculture and oil and gas.
"We know that energy is developing at a rapid pace, and it looks like it's going to be around for a while," said Robert Kjelland, director of external relations for Aims. "When you watch what's been happening in job development and employee needs, these programs are the best opportunities for our students."
In January, the college received a $2 million grant from the Department of Labor to expand the college's applied environmental technology department, including establishing an Associate of Applied Science degree in energy/oil and gas.
Ed Holloway, president and CEO of Synergy Resources Corp., based out of Platteville, said then it would help a booming industry in Weld that finds new hires hard to come by.
"It takes a couple of years to go through the program," Kjelland said. "We're counting on both industries to be healthy at that point. The USDA secretary said one-in-12 jobs are directly related to agriculture. So we see that as a great opportunity. Weld County is always in the top 10 in ag production in the United States."
Aims board member Carol Ruckel, who represents the Fort Lupton area from District A, said industry insiders have said they expect the boom in Weld for at least the next 10 years.
"That is quite a long time," she said. "The industry has been asking us for certificate and degree programs, so we are going to give them that. I have heard from several of them, and they are looking forward to their current and future employees getting the training they need."
The oil and gas programs are unique, Ruckel said. The college has been working with industry professionals to develop the curriculum and have it approved by the Colorado Department of Higher Education and Aims' accreditation association.
Michael Kelly, chief financial officer for the school, said the college is able to pay for the building because the board has saved its capital expense money for several years. It is a one-time expenditure and does not affect the operating budget.
Aims capital expenses are funded by a portion of its property tax collection. Kelly said property taxes from increased oil and gas business has helped. Last year, the school received $2 million more than it planned.
Aims President Marsi Liddell said the expansion shows how serious Aims is about preparing its students.
"These industries continue to grow, leading northern Colorado's economic recovery," Liddell said.
Slaterpaull Architects of Denver designed the building. The college expects to name a contractor within the next two weeks and break ground sometime in late August.
Ruckel said Fort Lupton is thrilled with the expansion, and it shows Aims' commitment to the community.
"Fort Lupton is delighted to have construction and growth on our campus," Ruckel said. "A second building is critical because now you're making a campus. It shows a commitment that says, 'Yes, Aims is going to stay.' "
(c)2012 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.)
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Photo: Kate Rosenbarger