Nearly two years of construction culminated in the Aug. 15 grand opening for Ozarks Technical Community College’s $40 million Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
Referred to as the PMC by school officials, the center’s opening was celebrated by local and state stakeholders, including Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. The project, noted by OTC as the largest and most expensive in its history, came in on time and on budget, said PMC Executive Director Robert Randolph.
“It is not an understatement to say this is a game-changing day in the history of the college,” OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon said at the Aug. 15 event. “It’s 120,000 square feet and millions of dollars in advanced technology, a facility built to be toured.”
Crossland Construction Co. Inc. served as general contractor for the project designed by Dake Wells Architecture Inc. and its national partner, Minneapolis-based Perkins & Will Inc., according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
At the high-traffic corner of Chestnut Expressway and National Avenue on OTC’s Springfield campus, the PMC represents the college’s desire to boost advanced manufacturing training in response to education and workforce needs in the community.
“We hear about workforce development all the time, and a lot of politicians talk about workforce development,” Kehoe said. “This is workforce development. You actually have a physical facility that stretches beyond anyone’s possible imagination.”
Kehoe noted data from a 2017 study projects the PMC will have a $400 million economic impact on the region over the next decade.
The facility is bathed in natural light, which officials note is a reflection of modern manufacturing facilities. Its second floor includes an expansive walkway that overlooks the first-floor labs and collaborative spaces, which have ceilings high enough to accommodate airplanes. The upstairs also houses classroom space for computer repair, drafting, cybersecurity, prototyping and information technology.
The PMC serves as home to seven of OTC’s technical training programs: automation and robotics, cybersecurity, drafting and design, IT infrastructure, manufacturing technology, mechatronics and precision machining. Roughly 15,000 square feet is designated as industry partner space, where local companies can train employees, create operational processes for new equipment, and conduct research and development.
At the event, Higdon said Lebanon-based manufacturer DT Engineering would be the first industry partner at the PMC.
Jim Shelton, owner and CEO of the industrial automation company, said DT Engineering will occupy 15,000 square feet on the building’s first floor, adjacent to the technology lab and the Gene Haas Precision Machining Lab. OTC officials said Shelton signed a one-year lease for an undisclosed rate.
Shelton said DT Engineering plans to move in Oct. 1 and will take roughly another 30 days to set up in the building. Initially, 15 employees will come from its 260,000-square-foot Lebanon facility to work in the space, he said, adding its arrival at PMC serves as a company expansion. The 1933-founded manufacturer employs 105 in Lebanon.
“We both have so much to offer each other,” he said of the partnership with OTC. “We’ll be designing and building new technology here and some existing technology. What we will be working on here fits in almost every technology course they have.”
DT Engineering will be working at the PMC on automation products mostly for pharmaceutical and clean industrial purposes, Shelton said.
“The uniqueness is not only will we be building as a business to sell the products to our customers, but we’ll also be interacting with the students,” he said. “Our floor will be open to students to come in and look at what we’re doing and ask questions of the technicians. I hope through all of this that we’ll be hiring alumni from OTC to join us.”
Shelton said discussions with OTC began around five months ago, and college officials said two other undisclosed companies expressed interest in the space.
Dream becomes reality
Voters approved a 5-cent property tax increase for the college in April 2018, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in late 2020. OTC has received several donations for the PMC, including six-figure gifts from the likes of SRC Holdings Corp., the Gentry family and Rick’s Automotive.
The first announced gift for OTC’s $10 million capital campaign was St. Louis-based international manufacturer Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE: EMR). The Emerson Innovation Discovery Lab on the PMC’s second floor offers hands-on activities and is intended to be a focal point for facility tours, according to officials. The lab is just steps away from the top of a dramatic staircase that greets visitors as they enter. Running parallel to the staircase is seating space, which school officials say is intended as a student collaboration area and gathering area during tours.
“We have committed $500,000 to help this dream become a reality,” Emerson Director of Operations Keith Calhoun said at the event. “Our goal is simple: to help train and prepare the next generation technical worker for employment in manufacturing companies like Emerson.”
He noted the company employs dozens of graduates of OTC’s technical program.
OTC officials say the PMC is intended to shine a light on the significance of manufacturing and change the stigma of employees working in dark, dirty and dangerous factories.
“We need to make people understand manufacturing is clean, safe, cool, well-paid and modern,” Higdon said. “That’s what we’re here to do today.”
Classes at OTC start Aug. 22 and initial enrollment is around 600, Higdon said, adding the facility has capacity to teach up to 1,200 students. Randolph said there’s still some punch list items for the PMC that will be tackled over the next few weeks. Those include touching up paint and making sure doors shut properly.
“They’re small things and they won’t disrupt classes,” he said. “The classrooms have been ready for a while.”
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