A $20 million expansion to Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology will bring hundreds of additional students to the city campus for training in industry skills that are in extremely high demand.
The new facility at the former National Guard armory property on Chesapeake Street is also expected to catalyze fresh economic activity in the city’s southeast, home to the highest concentration of poverty in the county.
Stevens officials confirmed last week they expect to break ground at the armory site in spring for the Greiner Advanced Manufacturing Center, finishing it in time to welcome students in fall 2018.
The 60,000-square-foot facility won’t just be a home run for the neighborhood, the city and the county as a whole, Mayor Rick Gray said: It’ll be a “grand slam.”
Giving up the site, which fell into the city’s lap five years ago when the armory closed, wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one, Gray said.
“I’m so happy that this is coming to fruition,” he said.
The Greiner Center will house Stevens’ programs in metals fabrication, welding, machine tools and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, or HVAC&R.
“We’re going to be creating human capital here,” college President William Griscom said.
It will be able to serve up to 450 students — three four-hour shifts of 150 students each.
It is being built and equipped through about $20 million in state funding and $2.4 million raised through a private capital campaign, including a $1 million lead grant from the company for which the center is named, Mount Joy-based Greiner Industries.
Companies have the work, but there’s a chronic shortage of people with the skills to do it, Griscom said. That slows potential economic growth.
This spring, he said, more than 800 companies with 2,400 job openings were competing for Stevens’ 350 graduates.
“There’s no question that the demand side is there,” Griscom said.
He predicted significant spillover effects from the Greiner center, with businesses locating nearby and providing “good jobs within walking distances of people’s homes.”
A state project
As Pennsylvania’s only state-owned two-year technical college, Stevens is a unique institution. It enrolls about 900 students, many of whom receive full scholarships based on need.
Its construction work is handled through the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. The department will put the Greiner project out to bid shortly, Griscom said.
The architect is Lancaster-based Greenfield Architects, part of the High family of companies.
The site is about 8.5 acres, landscape architect Doug Gamber of Raudenbush Engineering said.
At first, there was some thought of adapting the existing armory buildings, but “that was not practical,” so they will be torn down, he said.
The property is bisected by a 60-inch-diameter underground sewer pipe that predates the armory buildings. To avoid it, the Greiner center will be two buildings, rather than the single structure originally envisioned.
The design is “very visual,” Stevens spokesman Adam Aurand said, with “lots of glass so young people can see what modern manufacturing looks like.”
Gray said he’s excited, not only about the direct economic effects the campus will have, but its potential to influence aspirations: “In the long run, this will have such a positive impact.”
The National Guard built the Chesapeake Street armory in 1949; when it closed shop in 2011, the site reverted to city ownership.
When Stevens inquired about the property, “my initial reaction was ‘no way,’ ” Gray recalled.
The city badly needed a new public works operations center for its streets and parks departments, and the armory looked like a promising site.
After further review, however, the mayor and his administration concluded that turning it over to Stevens — otherwise largely hemmed in on its urban campus — was too valuable an opportunity for the college for the city to stand in the way. It agreed to sell the property, completing the transaction in 2014.
The city will instead build the operations center on Riverside Avenue just outside city limits in Lancaster Township. The plans have been drawn up and are working their way through the township approval process, Gray said.
The city’s Parks Bureau has a building on the Greiner site that it will continue to use until the operations center is complete.
After that, the building will be remodeled as the Steinman Community Learning Center, a home for workforce training and after-school programs, Griscom said.
In 2014, the Steinman Foundation, the charitable arm of LNP’s parent company, donated $600,000 toward the Greiner campus project.
The woods on the north side of the property will remain. Stevens plans to work with nearby Hand Middle School to make them available for environmental education programs.