February 6, 2017 01:06PM
By Dale P. Faulkner
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — As if to christen the Westerly Education Center, a segment of a submarine hull was moved into the facility this week. In a matter of a few months, the hull will be part of a hands-on classroom, used by individuals looking to develop the trade skills necessary to build new subs for Electric Boat.
The promised fast-paced construction schedule appears on target, as partial certificates of occupancy are expected to be issued next week. When work on the facility began in March, officials announced a partial opening this month.
To start, prospective Electric Boat workers will attend classes geared toward obtaining certificates in carpentry, electrical work, pipe-fitting and sheet-metal work. The classes will begin in January. And evening courses that have been offered by Community College of Rhode Island at Westerly High School will move to the new facility when it opens for classes after the first of the year. The University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College are also expected to use the facility.
“We have met a very aggressive construction timeline,” said Amy Grzybowski, the center’s executive director. “There will be a lot of activity in the building to kick off the new year. Along with the Electric Boat trade curriculum, leadership training, and evening classes through CCRI, we anticipate that the Center will be hosting other courses and programs from CCRI, URI, RIC, private institutions and other industry partners.”
The vision and financial might for the project, which is estimated to cost more than $5 million when complete, is Charles Royce, who worked closely with state Rep. Sam Azzinaro to bring his dream of a community college in the downtown area a reality. The Royce Family Fund has pledged $1.7 million to the project and also purchased the 2.6-acre site for $450,000. Additional loans from the family fund are expected to be paid back as committed funds from other entities become available. Other contributions include a $712,000 brownfield remediation grant from the state, an additional $750,000 appropriation from the state legislature, $250,000 from the town, $100,000 from Washington Trust, $50,000 from Westerly Community Credit Union, $50,000 from the Roberts Foundation, and $10,000 from Delta Mechanical Contractors LLC. The state legislature has committed an additional $1.25 million. Electric Boat has committed to providing $425,000 worth of equipment. Organizers are talking to other potential contributers to make up a $450,000 budgetary shortfall.
Thomas J. Liguori Jr., who represents the Royce family Fund, said the center is an example of what Gov. Gina Raimondo has called a “seismic shift” in how economic development is undertaken. When the idea for the center was taking shape, Azzinaro and others contacted Electric Boat to determine the company’s level of interest and needs as the company ramped up to meet staffing needs to fulfill a reported $21 billion in contracted work.
“Previously, education institutions decided what training to do and the economic development people tried to fund the businesses to meet the skills. This is saying to the largest manufacturers, ‘What is it you need?’,” Liguori said.
As construction of the 34,500-square-foot center has proceeded, Liguori said the center has received inquiries from representatives of the health care, construction, and information technology fields interested in setting up training programs. “To think, all of this before the doors even open. It’s great, there’s a palpable buzz going on,” Liguori said.
Completion of the facility will occur in three phases — the initial partial certificates of occupancy will allow the portion of the facility where Electric Boat will serve as the anchor tenant to open. The second phase will see the entry lobby and second-floor classroom space open. The third and final phase, expected to be completed in mid-February, will be outfitted based on the needs of anticipated tenants. Electric Boat is eager for the facility to start turning out workers. CCRI instructors will receive training in maritime electrical, sheet metal, and pipe-fitting in December.
“We are proud to take part in this innovative project, which represents the active roles Rhode Island, local school systems and industry are taking to build the educated work force required to compete and succeed in the 21st century,” said Sean Davies, vice president of Quonset Point Operations for General Dynamics Electric Boat. “We applaud the contributions of everyone involved in establishing this partnership.”
Davies added: “This program will provide General Dynamics Electric Boat with the educated and motivated employees we will require to meet the demands of increased submarine production. They’ll have the skills and tools they’ll need to perform effectively at their jobs, as well as the means to take on future professional opportunities.”