TCC considers starting an aviation center in Fort Worth

06/20/2012 11:18 PM

06/24/2013 3:43 PM

FORT WORTH -- If workforce projections prove true, North Texas should see plenty of job openings for pilots, aircraft mechanics and aerospace engineers over the next decade.

Tarrant County College wants to help train some of those future workers, which is why it spent about $5.2 million to buy 20 acres at Alliance Airport in 2008. Five more acres were donated by Hillwood Properties.

But now TCC must weigh competing needs and other proposed projects, including programs that help more students complete college, a performing arts center and an energy technology center.

"What is the best use of taxpayers' money?" Bill Greenhill, president of the TCC board of trustees, asked about the proposals.

Greenhill said he would like to establish a long-range capital improvements plan that carefully plots future projects and their financing.

"These are very expensive and we've got a lot of other needs," Greenhill said, adding that the district may need to refurbish existing facilities to meet future demand. "We need to get our hands around all of these things."

North Texas' population is projected to keep growing, and TCC has benefited from community colleges' growing role in training workers. A recent report to TCC's trustees predicts that enrollment will grow from 50,062 students to 115,552 by 2030.

Trustee O.K. Carter said that even if the study is half right, "the need to expand will be dramatic." He predicted that TCC will need to develop and sustain programs, many of them online.

Separately, Carter wondered how the American Airlines bankruptcy and departure from some Alliance facilities will affect the proposed aviation training project.

"These events give pause to the idea of making more investment right now," Carter said.

Still, Carter and other trustees are willing to consider the project, which is listed as an information item for today's board meeting. No action will be taken, Greenhill said.

"We are going to digest the information," he said.

Trustees are weighing several proposals that have long been on the table as they review budget needs for the upcoming year.

One is an energy technology center in a sustainable building. Trustees moved forward in January with plans for the 67,200-square-foot center on the South Campus by approving a $2.8 million contract for architecture and engineering design services.

Another proposal is a center for visual and performing arts on the Northeast Campus. In May, trustees approved up to $175,000 for a planning and cost analysis of that project, which could include a dance studio and theater.

In 2008, when TCC bought the land at Alliance Boulevard and Heritage Parkway in far north Fort Worth, the plan was for consolidating TCC's aviation programs at the Northwest Campus and Meacham Airport. The Star-Telegram reported that TCC, which has offered aviation maintenance training since 1967, would expand to offer pilot training for the first time.

But the Alliance land has been sitting untouched.

The proposed TCC Alliance Learning Center inched somewhat closer to consideration last month when trustees received a report detailing four options that differed in size, space and cost.

The most comprehensive option is a $93.6 million, 304,800-square-foot facility on the college-owned property. The cheapest is a $44.4 million renovation of a building vacated by Bell Helicopter on Horizon Drive.

Michael Mallonee, principal transportation planner for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the Alliance center is one component in the effort to help meet the demands of the region's aviation industry.

He said the region should be educating the skilled workers who will be needed by aviation centers such as Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Love Field and companies such as FedEx and Lockheed Martin.

Mallonee cites Texas Workforce Commission projections that the region will need 5,550 pilots, 2,350 aircraft mechanics and technicians, 2,200 aerospace engineers and 400 air traffic controllers over the next decade.

Proponents of the center stress that these workers should be trained in North Texas.

"We are trying to create a resource or a funnel of students and workers who can come directly out of the learning program," said Tom Harris, senior vice present of operations at Hillwood, after trustees heard last month's report.

He said the center makes sense because Alliance has 290 companies that specialize in aviation trades or logistics.

Hillwood's presentation tonight "will remind the board about where we've been and where we'd like to go," Harris said. "They have some tough decisions to make and we recognize that."

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianestar

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