CLEARWATER — When students return to Pinellas Technical College in October, they’ll find a reconfigured campus in Clearwater with new lighting, airy classrooms, and better tools and technology for learning their trade.
That’s the result of a $17 million redesign that includes more bays for teaching automotive and diesel engine repair and new classrooms for learning cosmetology, nursing, heating and air conditioning, welding, electric, plumbing, and other trades, said John Kidwell, an architect with Hepner Architects of Tampa, the company that redesigned the college. The firm started with the details, then worked to larger changes, he said.
“When you used to walk down the hallway in Building 7, for example, it all looked the same, but we employed different colors at corridor intersections to provide visual cues to provide wayfinding without signs,” Kidwell said. The firm also installed new LED lighting to replace fluorescent lighting in use on campus since the 1980s.
New landscaping, traffic circle
Apprentices and students from Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Clearwater and others undertaking the school’s 40 career training programs will first notice the traffic circle at the entrance to the campus, seating areas and landscaping surrounding a tall, curved metallic sign that boasts, “Pinellas Technical College.”
Beyond the circular driveway is Building 7, the new Student Services Building.
“The original building was very small and wasn’t organized well,” Kidwell said. “It had offices packed into it and was not laid out well. We relocated some people and offices and created a brand-new Student Services Center with a brand-new bookstore, offices, and college counseling offices.”
The college, which is a Pinellas County public school, serves three kinds of students, said Kyesha Robinson, managing officer for the Office of Workforce Innovation at the college.
“First, high school juniors and seniors who are thinking about learning a trade spend the first two class periods of the day with us,” said Robinson, a graduate of the University of Central Florida. “We provide the transportation and the books, and they return to their regular schools for the rest of their classes each day.”
Students find jobs here
The technical school — which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Council on Occupational Education — also trains electricians, plumbers, and other trades workers already working in their fields, Robinson said. Tradespeople seeking additional certifications can do so at the school in the evening. The third group of students — not affiliated with public schools — undertake formal training and certification in the trade of their choice.
“Some students are seeking ‘stackable credentials,’ which provides them with an income that helps them pay for the rest of their education,” she said.
To maintain accreditation, the school, which has a second campus in St. Petersburg, is required to maintain a job placement rate of 70 percent to 80 percent.
“We regularly exceed the minimum,” Robinson said. “Employers come all the time to the campus looking for employees.”
Diesel and automotive mechanics students will be pleased to see that water will no longer pool in front of the Automotive Service Technology garage doors during heavy rains, Kidwell said. When all the inside mechanics’ bays were in use in the past, mechanics-to-be had to work outside on vehicles in the heat and rain. No more.
No more flooding
“At the roll-up doors, where students drive the vehicles in for service, there were storm drainage issues on the outside,” he said. “Water would drain past the garage doors.”
After improving drainage and other exterior problems, Hepner Architects upgraded the electrical systems to better operate the existing hydraulic lifts, welding equipment and other air and electrical tools. They built a protected area outside the automotive repair building so mechanics could use hydraulic and other power tools outside.
“Students didn’t have enough bays inside the building for all the cars and vehicles they worked on,” he said. “They would just park them outside and work on them in the sun and rain. They now have hydraulic lifts, as well as shade and protection outside.”
The firm also improved storage for the program.
“The outside was just littered with engines, parts, and transmissions scattered everywhere,” he said.
“We removed all that and stored it centrally inside a building to protect the parts from theft and the elements.”
Keep the air moving
The firm installed ceiling fans with 8-foot blades to keep the air moving and temperatures down inside the automotive building.
For the nursing students, there’s new technology and upgraded classrooms.
The 1,350-hour program allows students to pass the Florida Board of Nursing exam to become a licensed practical nurse. The new Nursing Simulation Center uses lifelike babies and toddlers as teaching tools, along with adult mannequins that emote pain, bleed, and produce blood-pressure readings and other vital signs.
“They didn’t have simulated practice rooms and the mannequins, those are all new,” Kidwell said.
The mannequins can simulate patient failure, for instance, whether at the emergency room check-in desk, in the hallway, and all the way to the patient bed in a mock hospital room.
“There’s an observation room where instructors can watch through one-way glass as nursing students treat patient mannequins,” Kidwell said.
Open house, bragging rights
The school has an open house at each campus before its grand-reopening Oct. 17. The first open house is Oct. 8, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at 6100 154th Ave. N., Clearwater. High school students and parents will get a tour of the Clearwater campus, meet instructors, and check out the technology for their trade of interest. Potential students can attend enrollment and financial aid workshops and learn the best path to certification in their profession or trade.
The second open house is at the St. Pete campus, 901 34th St., St. Petersburg. It will offer the same tours, workshops and introduction to teachers.
The Clearwater campus grand reopening is at 6 p.m. and is a “blue tie affair,” which requires attendees to wear one article of clothing that is blue, to acknowledge skilled career industries “that are the backbone of our nation,” a college spokesman said.