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BIG RAPIDS, MI – It’s been a goal of the Ferris State University hvacr department for over a decade now, but on January 17, 2001, the dream became reality.
Michigan Governor John Engler signed a bill that approves state funding for Ferris, located here in Big Rapids. The bill specifies that $18 million will go towards the renovation of the university’s current Construction Technology Center and the addition of a 45,000-sq-ft building to house the hvacr program.
The funding will cover 75% of the project; Ferris will have to cover the other $4.5 million. The university is hoping to team up with industry to help with the extra cost.
According to Mike Feutz, Ferris’ hvacr department program coordinator, this should not be a problem. Feutz says the state funding needed to get the project off the ground is due in great part to the overwhelming amount of industry support Ferris has already received.
Feutz said that the efforts to construct a new hvacr building began in 1989, when Dick Shaw was still head of the department. For the rest of Shaw’s career with Ferris, he pushed for the new building and kept the issue in the minds of the administration.
The Planning StagesIn 1998, the building project started to become a priority. Faculty spent time with the university architect and mapped out a program statement. This meant fleshing out the details of the need for a building as well as building requirements, cost statements, and enrollment trends.
After creating a plan, Feutz says that he and the many others involved in the project had to get industry support.
The university urged several industry organizations and associations, such as the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI), the Mechanical Contractors Associa-tion of America (MCAA), and the United Association (UA), to name only a few, to help get the attention of the legislature.
The several organizations that took part asked their members to write to their senators and congressmen to help push for the funding. With those letters, individuals included the reasons why Ferris needed a new building, including statistics that the hvacr industry itself needs more qualified technicians.
“Industry support was crucial,” Feutz says about obtaining the funding. “Supporters wrote how important hvac is. It is in every building, from national security to small buildings and homes.”
Along with the letter writing campaign, Feutz says that the effort included making trips to the state capital in Lansing to organize meetings with industry leaders. The university also invited officials to tour the campus, to see why Ferris needed a new building.
On July 13, 2000, the efforts started to pay off. The governor signed a bill that authorized planning of the project and gave Ferris $100. This money, according to Feutz, was only a token amount to put the building on its way to funding. However, it was the authorization that put Ferris on its way to obtaining full funding.
Building ExpectationsA timeline has been set for the building. Planning is expected to be finished by March 2002, with ground breaking and construction set to begin in April. Construction is expected to take one year, with completion in May 2003. The building is expected to officially open in June 2003.
The hvacr department is currently in the Construction Tech-nology Building on campus. When the department moves, renovations will begin on that building and the construction departments, including Construction Manage-ment and Construction Technol-ogy, will move into the building.
Feutz has given some indication on what the university and the department would like to do with the new construction building and the new hvacr building, but plans are still tentative.
“We plan to duplicate every lab we already have,” said Feutz of the new building. This includes a lab for commercial refrigeration and air conditioning, one for basic air conditioning and refrigeration, two separate labs for gas and oil heating, and a separate lab for electricity.
There will also be several new additions if plans go as scheduled. The first would be an auditorium for lectures. The auditorium will be built complete with an overhead door connected to a loading dock. This will allow the department to bring in large pieces of equipment and have demonstrations.
“We are also planning to include the actual mechanical systems that heat and cool the building into the labs,” Feutz said. “This will give students the ability to test, monitor, and observe actual mechanical equipment.”
Feutz says there is also the possibility that the renovated construction building will be able to do the same thing. This means covering unfinished walls with glass so that construction students can see the way the walls were built and the different techniques that were used.
The hvacr department is also hoping to obtain several different systems so that students will have the opportunity to work on a variety of equipment. This will include chillers, boilers, and geothermal heat pumps.
Hvacr GrowingAccording to Feutz, the hvacr department has been on a growth trend for the past seven years. This visible trend also helped garner attention for the funding.
The trend includes graduating approximately 60 students from the program each year. Also, over the past three years, student enrollment in the associate’s degree program has been up 30%. Enrollment in the bachelor’s degree program was up 75% over the last five years. Total enrollment in the program is 147 students.
Feutz says that if the same growth continues, by 2010 the department will have 143 associate’s degree students and 119 bachelor’s degree students.
And Ferris is looking to keep increasing the number of students in the program. In fact, Feutz says that it is becoming more of a priority to the department. The new building, which will more than double the department’s current space, will play a role in creating interest for new students.
To create this awareness, the department has hired Tad Mellen to be in charge of public relations. According to Feutz, no other individual program on the Ferris campus has its own public relations person. The department hopes that with Mellen’s help, more interest can be created in hvacr and in Ferris’ program.
Also, the department hopes its own public relations professional will maintain the support industry has already provided to Ferris.
Feutz says he is very thankful to the many industry organizations and associations that have helped Ferris thus far. “Without the industry support, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Publication date: 02/12/2001