KINGSPORT — Work is wrapping up on the Pal Barger Regional Center for Automotive Programs — the fifth facility in the Kingsport Academic Village — with college officials saying students should be in the building beginning classes later this week.
The RCAP — located in the old Free Service Tire building in downtown Kingsport — is home to Northeast State Community College’s automotive programs, including such courses as structural repair, painting and refinishing, and automotive electrical. The college held a special walk-through of the facility for members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday afternoon.
Dr. Janice Gilliam, president of Northeast State, said the college has worked “frantically” over the past three to four months to finish the renovations on the building and have it ready for students, hopefully by Thursday.
“I think you’ll be really proud of this facility,” Gilliam said, noting an open house for the facility is planned for February.
According to Ernie Morelock, program director/instructor at the RCAP, the school will offer a one-year certificate program at the facility (auto body service) with plans to eventually offer a two-year associate of applied sciences degree (auto body technology). Both classes for the spring semester are currently full at 12 each, Morelock said.
The facility has two classrooms, two offices, 14 workstations, a paint booth, and four virtual paint stations. The virtual paint stations are essentially a virtually reality system where the student wears a mask and utilizes a sprayer similar to one used in an auto body shop.
The equipment is tied into a computer, which projects an image of a vehicle panel on a monitor and through the student’s mask at the same time. The system can emulate various types of sprayers, vehicle panels, colors and environments, while the student learns the skills associated with painting, such as speed, depth and coverage, Morelock said.
“This will train students in five weeks what would take a year in regular training,” Morelock said. “Students will have marketable skills when they leave this program.”
The RCAP building has been at the center of a public and private debate among college and Kingsport officials for more than two years, with some city leaders being frustrated over the delay in the opening of the facility. Originally, the facility was to open in the fall of 2010 but was delayed until the spring of 2011 and then the fall of 2011.
Northeast State officials attribute the delay to several reasons, such as obtaining the necessary approvals, the college not having access to the building until October 2010, and an environmental study on the property not being completed until March 2011.
Regardless, Northeast State has done extensive renovations of the building over the past six months, including painting the exterior of the building, replacing all of the exterior garage doors, sectioning off and renovating the interior of the building for offices and classrooms, and upgrading the flooring in the garage section.
Gilliam said Monday that nearly $1.2 million in equipment and renovations have been spent for the RCAP, with the college paying for the $750,000 in equipment and furniture and half of the $400,000 in renovations. The remaining half came from the Northeast State Foundation. Pal’s Sudden Service owner Pal Barger donated $400,000 to the foundation in the fall of 2008 for the purchase of the building.
The RCAP is the fifth facility of Kingsport’s Academic Village and the fourth facility for students, joining the Regional Center for Health Professions, Kingsport Center for Higher Education and Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
Over the past four years, Northeast State’s student population in downtown Kingsport has grown from 753 to more than 1,500 in the fall 2011 semester. The latest enrollment figures have 339 students at the RCAM, 354 students at the RCHP and 913 at the KCHE. King College also has 238 students at the KCHE, while Lincoln Memorial University has 70.