OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City Community College has a hole in its campus that’s just the right size for a new Workforce Development Center.

Construction on the $8.4 million project will begin soon and allow the junior college to consolidate a lot of its programs under one roof and eliminate the need to lease space off campus, President Jerry Steward said. The school’s Professional Development Institute (PDI), for example, has been housed in a facility about 5 miles east on Interstate 35 at Plaza Mayor, formerly known as Crossroads Mall.

The new center will also house the Honda Professional Automotive Career Training program for automotive technicians, a two-year program that allows full-time students to earn full-time wages while working toward associate degrees. Participants study topics such as electrical systems, engines, steering and suspension standards that are used at Honda and Acura dealerships. The school has an affiliated technician training program with General Motors already on campus as well, and has signed similar agreements with Subaru and Nissan.

In short, the school is being responsive to educational market demands, Steward said.

“We’ve had generous donations for specialty tools and cars from Honda, and a sizable donation from JPMorgan Chase,” Steward said. “This is a major investment and response to the needs of the community in central Oklahoma.”

The Workforce Development Center will actually fill a hole in campus – OCCC operated a swimming pool for 25 years before former President Paul Sechrist concluded the school was losing $300,000 annually in maintenance and operation costs.

The Aquatic Center, originally built for the U.S. Olympic Festival, was shut down in 2015 to the dismay of students and area residents who also used it for leisure and fitness. Steward said his own son learned to swim at the pool, so he felt the loss, too, but the space will continue to help the community by supporting higher-pay jobs with skills training.

The project has been contracted to Beck Design in Oklahoma City. Beck is working on a two-floor plan of about 46,400 square feet initially, with an expansion planned for 15,000 square feet. After the pool is demolished and the Olympic-size hole is filled, a concrete slab will be poured to support construction inside the existing structure, Beck project manager Scott Parker said.

The preliminary construction base bid cost estimate for the first phase is almost $8.4 million. An updated cost estimate will be presented by Beck Design to OCCC administrators in August. Officials will go to the Board of Regents in October with final design plans to request authorization to accept bids. Construction is expected by early 2019.