Fletcher breaks ground for new training center

01 09, 2013 by Houma Courier

Local and state officials gathered inside Fletcher Technical Community College Tuesday to highlight its new offshore oil-and-gas training facility in Schriever.

The BP Integrated Production Technologies facility will be built behind the Fletcher building along La. 311 near the U.S. 90 overpass next to BP’s Houma Operations Learning Center.

At 29,999 square feet, the building will include 10 classrooms, a 3,200-square-foot laboratory and four offices. Thibodaux-based Weimer Gros Flores LLC and Crump Wilson Architects designed the building. It will be built by the Prairieville-based J.F. Juge Construction Co.

The purpose of the facility is to provide much-needed training for deepwater oil and gas production.

The total cost of the project is $8 million and includes the building, designer fees, surveying and other construction details. The $5.2 million building is being funded in part through a $4 million donation BP made to the Fletcher Foundation.

The donation is being matched by the state, and the State Bond Commission approved a cash line of credit for the match. The 39-acre property was acquired through a $2.7 million federal Community Development Block Grant Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration committed to in 2009.

Fletcher’s two-year petroleum technology program teaches students the technical, scientific and mathematical skills required for oilfield jobs. The new space and equipment means the program will be able to grow and give students more hands-on experience with the most up-to-date technology.

“What we’re looking at with the groundbreaking today is really setting a course for the future of individuals to support the needs of the economy and the global workforce here in south Louisiana,” Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical System, said at the ceremony held inside because of rainy weather.

In addition to beefing up Fletcher’s two-year programs, the building will have space for high school students to study as well. High school juniors and seniors will be able to dual-enroll at Fletcher and their high school, earning credits for fast-track degrees or certificates at Fletcher or Nicholls State University.

The project comes as local leaders work to increase badly needed job training for the offshore industry to meet surging demand. Oil companies said there are more jobs than there are skilled workers and are shelling out sometimes huge sums of money to speed up training.

Although BP was a major donor to Fletcher’s new campus, students who graduate from the campus are not required to work for BP.

“It is critical to know that the recipients aren’t required to work for BP,” said Crystal Ashby, BP America executive vice president. “It’d be nice if they did. But that’s fine because it strengthens the entire industry, which is important.”

BP and the entire offshore industry face a crucial shortage of workers, Ashby said. In the coming years, nearly 40 percent of the offshore workforce will retire.

“The industry needs workers,” she said. “And these workers will have to be better educated and highly trained than ever before.”

Fletcher Chancellor Travis Lavigne said it’s important to know the curriculum is not BP’s curriculum.

It’s the “industry’s curriculum to train deepwater-production operators,” he said, “and this facility’s primary purpose is to teach that.”

A construction timeline isn’t ready, but the building must be completed by 2014 because of state requirements. Lavigne said he expects on-time construction.

“We will be training operators in this building until the new facility is built,” he said. “And then we’ll be ready to roll.”