Governor: Partnership key in vision for Westerly CCRI campus

Governor: Partnership key in vision for Westerly CCRI campus

The Westerly Sun


WESTERLY — Hailed as a “talent pipeline” that will prepare both traditional and nontraditional students for jobs at Electric Boat and other employers, the Westerly Higher Education and Job Skills Center was celebrated Thursday morning.

An audience of more than 100 gathered in the lobby of the Westerly train station on Railroad Avenue, which offers a view of where the facility, a satellite of the Community College of Rhode Island, will be built.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said the facility will provide a direct solution to Electric Boat’s need for hundreds of new workers to help fulfill contracts for new Virginia-class ballistic-missile nuclear submarines and the Ohio-class replacement ships to follow.

“We have employers like Electric Boat who tell me every day, ‘Governor we’re adding jobs, we want to add jobs in Rhode Island, we need that talent pool,’ and that is what today is all about,” Raimondo said.

Electric Boat will serve as the initial anchor tenant at the facility and will work with CCRI to develop a curriculum designed to prepare students for maritime pipe-fitting, maritime sheet-metal and carpentry positions. Other businesses are expected to use the facility in the future. A groundbreaking is anticipated in a few months.

Raimondo and a host of other speakers cited the project as a prime example of a public-private partnership made possible by the contributions of private donors as well as the work of the town’s state legislative delegation, local education officials and several state agencies. One donor in particular was singled out as being indispensable.

“An unbelievably visionary, compassionate and hugely successful businessperson, Chuck Royce ... it is a fact that we would not be here today without you, Chuck, and your family,” Raimondo said.

The new CCRI campus will consist of a 14,000-square-foot training building and a 34,000-square-foot, 17-classroom building on a 2.3-acre site that was formerly a rail yard. A $712,000 Department of Environmental Management Brownfields Remediation and Economic Development Fund grant will be used to address polluted soil at the site.

Janet Coit, DEM director, said the project is tailor-fit to the grant program.

“When this project is done it will transform this former rail yard into a new CCRI center. This project is a stellar example of what our brownfields program is about,” Coit said.

Royce’s nonprofit philanthropic Royce Family Fund has pledged $1.775 million toward the total estimated $4.5 million cost of the project. The fund covered the $450,000 cost of the land, acquired in October. During brief remarks Thursday, Royce thanked his wife, Deborah, his son-in-law, Dan King, executive director of the family fund, and Thomas J. Liguori Jr., the lawyer who represents the fund.

While the project is intended to help CCRI, it is also part of Royce’s commitment to the downtown area. He is involved in efforts to restore and reopen the United Theatre, is a financial backer of the Knickerbocker Cafe and supports Ocean Community YMCA.

“Our motivation was not just CCRI, it was actually to help enhance downtown Westerly. We are thrilled to be a part of the community and we are thrilled to help downtowns come back,” Royce said.

While young adults are often criticized for being tethered to electronic devices, Joseph Brodeur, a Westerly High School senior, said technology classes such as computer-assisted design and engineering design are “among the busiest and most productive, every period teeming with a host of students.” The CCRI center will offer some of those students their next educational step, he said.

“By making this jobs-skills training center available to these students ... all parties involved in planning this project are helping to bridge that gap between our education system and the work force, to confer the tools of real hands-on, self-driven success to our students like myself. It is opportunities like this that sustain our workers, our families, town, cities, and our state and country,” Brodeur said.

The figurative seed for the project started to take root during a chance encounter between Royce and state Rep. Sam Azzinaro, D-Westerly. Azzinaro was at the Ocean House with his wife, Carol, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on April 18, 2014. As the two men chatted, Royce told Azzinaro of his vision for a community college campus in downtown Westerly. Soon after, Azzinaro talked to and set up a series of meetings with former CCRI President Ray DiPasquale, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Royce, Liguori, King, and later representatives of Electric Boat.

“We need to celebrate this innovative public-private partnership. People have said to me ‘We can’t wait to have it open.’ I agree with them,” Azzinaro said.

State Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, who has worked to help leverage state funds for the project, praised Raimondo’s leadership as a central force helping to bring the project from a dream to the precipice of the first shovel going into the ground.

He called the center “a textbook example of collaboration” between state agencies, political leaders, private donors and the business community.

“The outcome is phenomenal. We will have a groundbreaking soon and then a jobs-skills center that will be an engine for economic development and help people find good-paying jobs,” Algiere said.

In the early days, the governor made a simple request of those planning the project, according to Superintendent of Schools Roy Seitsinger Jr.: She asked them “to move with purpose, to move with urgency, and to move in the name of our students and our citizens. In a few short months that is exactly what this partnership has done,” Seitsinger said.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com


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