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College automotive tech center expected to be ready in 2020

December 21, 2018

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — An automotive technology center at Calhoun Community College’s Decatur campus, expected to be ready for students in August 2020, will offer a two-year associate degree to prepare them for jobs in auto maintenance and repair and also provide dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students.

″(Students) will be able to go into the field and have the knowledge to do the work of an entry-level and advanced technician,” said Lewis Nall, Calhoun’s automotive instructor since February. They’ll be able to handle basic maintenance and repair work on components like brakes, gaskets, alignment and timing belts, he said.

“It really is an excellent opportunity for a student to have a career” in the automotive industry, said Nall. “We’ll always have to have mechanics to fix cars.”

The curriculum, which will be available at Calhoun in August before the new building is completed, will feature lectures, working on trainers and hands-on disassembling and rebuilding of engines, he said. The following year, “we’ll have our own new building and equipment,” Nall said.

A dual-enrollment program in automotive technology has already started, launched in August at Madison County Career Technical Center with 19 students, according to Nall.

Through a partnership between Decatur City Schools and Calhoun, students enrolled in automotive technology at the new Career Academies of Decatur — beginning with the spring semester that starts Jan. 3 — can earn dual-enrollment credit, said career coach Angela Cushing.

“We’re excited about this partnership, and we’re excited to be able to offer it during the day,” Cushing said. Michael Funk, the Career Academies’ automotive technology instructor, will be the instructor for the dual-enrollment initiative.

Nall said dual-enrollment students can earn 24 hours of college credit before high school graduation if they enroll as juniors.

“By the time they graduate, they will have worked on every part of a car,” he said.

Destin Gilliam, a 16-year-old junior at Madison County High School, is enrolled in the Madison County program and is already a diesel tech apprentice at Woody Anderson Ford in Huntsville.

“It’s helped me understand more about the career I want to go into,” said Gilliam, who’s learning about the latest diesel engines and how they function.

At first, Kealey Weaver, a 15-year-old Sparkman High student, wanted to know about maintaining her own car when she receives a driver’s license.

“I’ve discovered that this is something I may want to do” for a career, said Weaver, who’s done everything from changing oil and changing tires to brake work.

Nall was previously the program coordinator for automotive and diesel technology at Owensboro Community & Technical College. He initially was a consultant for designing the new program at Calhoun.

“With a new building and equipment and the community support we have (for the project), this can be a phenomenal program,” he said.

Ground work at the site for the new center, on the south end of the Decatur campus, has been completed, and bids for the project will be opened in February, Nall said.

“We’re expecting to be in (the building) in August 2020,” he said.

The building will have three classrooms and 20 stalls for hands-on training, Nall said. The facility will be equipped with advanced trainers, “and we’re developing our own fleet of cars, ranging from late ’90s to 2017 (models),” he said.

Calhoun spokeswoman Janet Kincherlow-Martin said the cost of the facility and its equipment is projected at $9.6 million. A $1.5 million U.S. Department of Commerce grant for the program was announced in the spring, she said, and $1 million will come from a state appropriation.

“The rest is coming from institutional funds,” she said.

Nall said the program is designed to help with the need for service and repair technicians.

“We just don’t have enough technicians” for automotive dealerships and shops, Nall said. “The federal government projects half of the technicians will retire in the next 10 years.”

According to Nall, master technicians can earn salaries of $35 to $40 an hour.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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