FORT WORTH — Tarrant County College has struck a $16 million deal with Bell Helicopter to purchase the company’s 161,000-square-foot military programs facility at Alliance Airport.TCC intends to use the space to create an estimated $20 million learning center for aviation, aerospace and logistics training. The new facility in far north Fort Worth will allow TCC to expand aircraft maintenance programs now held at its Northwest campus and Meacham Airport. A contract was signed Monday by TCC and Bell Helicopter officials. Plans are to move into the Bell facility in June 2014 and hold courses such as aviation welding, transportation technology, pilot training, logistics and composite technology training, officials said.TCC leaders said they want the facility ready for classes by fall 2014.“Our agreement to purchase the military programs facility from Bell Helicopter means that we can expand our program and, more importantly, we can be sure our students are receiving the advanced training they need to hit the ground running after graduation,” TCC Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley said.John L. Garrison, Bell’s president and chief executive officer, said he was proud to support TCC’s expansion.“We are continuing to explore opportunities with TCC to offer advanced technical training for desired skill sets essential to our manufacturing and maintenance processes,’’ Garrison said.The sale of the Alliance property is part of Bell’s plan to consolidate facilities at its expanded home campus in east Fort Worth, near Hurst. The aerospace company, owned by Textron, is undergoing major renovation of its headquarters facility. It is expected to lease the property back from TCC until March 2014 until those renovations are completed.The 161,200-square-foot building sits on 15.37 acres at 2301 Horizon Dr. at Alliance Airport. The building has direct access to an airport runway and includes two airplane hangars.The facility also has 8,900 square-feet of industrial lab space, a commercial paint station, cafeteria, conference room and parking for about 400 cars. There is an additional 1.5 acres for future parking or building needs.Providing aviation, aerospace and logistics training at Alliance has long been a goal of TCC leaders. In 2008, the college district spent about $5.2 million to buy 20 acres at Alliance Airport. Five more acres were donated by Hillwood Properties. Louise Appleman, president of the TCC Board of Trustees, said they may be able to sell or lease the acreage they own at Alliance.Trustee Bill Greenhill said this option allowed them to move forward on the project.“We are going to use it for education,” Greenhill said. “We don’t have to build anything. We just have to buy.”The project appeared to be gaining some momentum last summer, but was placed on hold when studies indicated it would be too expensive for TCC. The most ambitious option was for a $93.6 million, 304,800-square-foot facility on the college-owned acres.At the time, trustees said all options were simply too expensive for the college. The cheapest option centered on the Bell Helicopter building, which was estimated to be a $44.4 million renovation project. “Same building, much cheaper,” said Trustee O.K. Carter. “We’ve just been talking, talking and talking to them.”TCC trustees approved spending $16 million for the Bell Helicopter facility last week. An estimated $4 million is earmarked for any needed renovations. TCC leaders expect continued growth in the demand for classes in aviation and logistics. Current enrollment of three programs — airframe maintenance, aviation electronics and pilot training — is about 2,500, said Reginald Gates, vice chancellor of communications for TCC. The district is projecting 15 percent student growth in those programs per year.Local experts said investing in aviation, aerospace and logistics training is money well spent. North Texas is home to more than 300 aerospace and aviation employers with a total economic impact of more than $21.5 billion said Michael Mallonee, principal transportation planner at North Central Texas Council of Governments.There is projected growth in the aviation and aerospace industries in upcoming years, according to Texas Workforce Commission estimates. For example, over the next decade the region will need 4,280 aircraft mechanics and technicians, 2,080 pilots and flight crew, 1,230 aircraft assemblers and 790 aerospace engineers.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1