BP donates $4 million to Fletcher

01 13, 2012 by Houma Courier

BP has donated $4 million to Fletcher Technical Community College for a new wing dedicated to training students for oilfield jobs.

The new Integrated Production Technologies center will be built alongside the school’s $19.1 million campus expansion on La. 311, which is under construction. It will include state-of-the art classrooms for college and high school students seeking oilfield jobs.

Fletcher Chancellor Travis Lavigne said the donation is the largest from a company he’s seen in his decades-long career at the school.

“To say that this is a big deal is an understatement,” Lavigne said. “This is going to let us provide new services to students in remarkable new ways.”

A Friday ceremony at BP’s Houma Operations Training Center, which is just down the street from the building site, drew more than a dozen local leaders from schools, universities and governments in both Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, as well as several high-ranking BP corporate officers.

The new oilfield training center will include, at a minimum, a 4,000-square-foot learning laboratory, four classrooms, and six offices, Lavigne said.

The school has also submitted an application for a matching $4 million from the state’s “Centers of Excellence” program. If it gets that money, the school will add a second floor to make room for high-school students.

Those students could dual-enroll at their high school and at the center, using the credits they earn for fast-track degrees at either Fletcher or Nicholls State University.

Terrebonne schools Superintendent Philip Martin said that will be a huge opportunity for local students who want to go into the oil industry.

“My vocabulary isn’t adequate to describe how much students are going to benefit from this,” Martin said.

If Fletcher gets all the money it hopes for, it will spend $7 million on construction and $1 million purchasing equipment.

Because the site is just down the road from BP’s training facility, students will be able to use the simulators and other equipment the company already has in place.

Lavigne said he hopes to break ground later this year.

James Dupree, president of BP’s Gulf of Mexico operations, said it’s in the company’s best interests to make sure the Houma-Thibodaux area is producing skilled oilfield workers.

“We’ve learned that training doesn’t just start with our company,” Dupree said. “It begins in our schools. That’s why we know we need to invest in them.”

With the current generation of oilfield workers retiring soon, Dupree said the oil industry is about to undergo “the Big Crew Change,” even as safety standards and technology increase. At the same time, BP plans to expand its drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico — Dupree said he hopes to grow the company’s Gulf presence from five rigs to at least eight rigs by year’s end.

That means BP needs areas like Houma-Thibodaux to crank out experienced workers faster than ever.

And BP officials say Fletcher is the perfect school to spearhead that effort.

“Fletcher students are confident, talented and, most importantly, ready to go right to work,” said Larry Thomas, BP’s general manager of government and public affairs. “We are proud to have them as our partners.”

For Fletcher, Lavigne said the new building is another step towards continuing the meteoric growth the school has seen over the past few years.

The 89,000-square-foot campus expansion to which the BP-funded project will be attached will more than double the school’s classroom space, which administrators say is long overdue. The new campus is scheduled to open in August.

Enrollment at Fletcher has skyrocketed in the past decade, up from a few hundred in the early 2000s to more than 2,500 this fall.

“With the state budget the way it is, I expected the new campus expansion would be the last building project we’d see in a while,” Lavigne said. “Thanks to BP, I’m glad to say that’s not the case.”