CCCC trustees consider fracking training program

Board also pursues partnership in dual-enrollment program
Jul. 27, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

At the same time it's facing significant turnover, the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees is also directing the college to plow ahead with two programs that could increase the size and scope of the school.

CCCC President Bud Marchant said at Wednesday's trustee meeting that he has been in talks with people including Jim Womack, a Lee County Commissioner and chairman of the state's commission in charge of writing regulations on natural gas drilling and other energy operations, about starting a new program at the school training students for jobs in energy-related fields.

If and when hydraulic fracturing, the process used to mine natural gas that is more commonly known as fracking, becomes legal, much of the drilling in the state will probably be centered in and around Lee County. Marchant told the board that regardless of their personal or political views on fracking, a controversial subject, it appears likely to occur — and no college in North Carolina currently offers any class training people for the oil and gas industry.

"If we don't do it, someone will," Marchant told the board, seeking permission to, alongside other staff, look into starting a well-maintenance program. He said such a program could have graduates looking at an average starting salary of about $50,000: "... These are, quite frankly, lucrative jobs."

He said he'd like to visit a New Mexico school that offers programs in the field, and he handed trustees a copy of one curriculum while noting that many of the subjects are merely specialized versions of things CCCC already teaches, like engine repair. The trustees unanimously approved a tentative plan for the college to look into starting the program and acquiring the equipment needed to teach it.

"The hand we're dealt is what we're dealt by the legislature," trustee Jamie Kelly said. "... We need to provide the training for these jobs because they're coming no matter what."

Another program the college is pursuing, with backing from local companies and independent donors, is a partnership with the Golden LEAF Foundation. If approved by that group's board, the college would put specially trained counselors in every public high school in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties — which all host CCCC campuses — who would steer students into free dual-enrollment classes.

According to the college's proposal, only about 5 percent of the nearly 5,000 high school juniors and seniors in those three counties who could take dual-enrollment classes are doing so. If that number increases, trustees said, everyone wins.

Students could earn up to 34 credit hours to use at the college or transfer to a four-year school, and the college would benefit because its state funding is based on how many students it teaches. The proposal states the goal is to have 100 percent of students participate, but even if the students' participation rate only jumps from 5 to 15 percent, the college would net an additional $350,000 per year.

Trustee Tony Lett, owner of Lee Builder Mart in Sanford, said the program seemed like it would be especially helpful for students who don't have plans for after high school.

"We don't want them to be graduating just to be graduating," he said. "We want them to have a trade or a skill."

Lett. however, along with fellow trustees Chet Mann, Jan Hayes and Norman "Chip" Post II, won't be on the board as the Golden LEAF initiative moves forward. All of them — including Post, who was only sworn in on Wednesday — will be forced off the board this Thursday by a new state law introduced by local Rep. Mike Stone.

They were appointed by the Lee County Board of Education, which Stone's bill stripped of its power to name trustees unilaterally. It also called for all the school board's appointees to be removed and not allowed to be re-elected right away. The empty seats will be filled by a joint effort of the Lee, Chatham and Harnett county school boards, but until then, a quarter of the 16-member board will be vacant.

Another quarter of the board is new. The board swore in new members Bill Carver, Patrick Barnes, Brian Bock and Jim Burgin on Wednesday, as well as re-swearing in Clem Medley to another term. Also Wednesday, two Lee County appointees went off the board: Carver succeeded Herald Editor R.V. Hight, and Post succeeded Ophelia Livingston, a local businesswoman.

Both Livingston and Hight were honored at a banquet before the meeting, receiving awards and giving speeches. Livingston encouraged the new and returning trustees to act only to improve the community and its citizens, and Hight urged them to always keep politics out of their decisions and to always do what is best for the college although they are all political appointees.

Julian Philpott, who was re-elected as chairman of the board later in the night with Barnes as his vice chairman, thanked the two for their service.

"It is a much richer college for you being on the board," Philpott said.