VALLEJO — It might not be much yet, but a former car dealership in Vallejo holds the key to the future of 24 current Solano Community College students.
The automotive technician students began classes Monday – three weeks after the semester started – amid the hustle and bustle of construction and preparation work that will continue through the summer in order to fully renovate the triangular location in Vallejo bordered by Solano Avenue and Georgia and Contra Costa streets.
The fledgling program that started in the spring of 2013 was formerly located at Armijo High School in Fairfield.
The 16,000-square-foot facility was completed enough Monday to offer the students one classroom, without finished doors and windows, but come next week five bays will offer work stations for the students. Another bay will be completed by the end of the semester and by the end of the summer the program will have nine bays to give students the room to spread out, which they didn’t have at Armijo.
Each bay, in addition to vehicle lifts, will also have its own tools and equipment.
“I think it’s good we moved out of Armijo because it gives us more . . . space,” said Fairfield resident Donnell Marshall, 32, a second-semester automotive student. “We’re able to do a lot more.”
Marchon King, 18, also a second-semester student, agreed. “It’s more room for us to work,” King said.
Automotive instructor Paul Hidy described cramped quarters, three bays and insufficient tool kits at the high school location. He said the opportunity for hands-on experience was limited with six to eight students in a group sharing tools and a bay.
“It’s just not fair to the students,” Hidy said. “They’re there to get their hands-on training. That’s what it’s all about.”
While not immediately complete, the move to Vallejo has given the program just what it needs, Hidy said. It’ll make it easier to expand the program and partner with a manufacturer that in turn will offer apprenticeships to the students.
“It opens up a lot of doors for the program,” Hidy said. “We can do a lot here.”
Hidy currently is looking for a manufacturer for the college program to partner with. He’s contacted Chrysler, General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen so far. The partnership gives the manufacturer a place to showcase new vehicles and it gives students apprenticeship opportunities. It also gives the colleges involved in such partnerships an opportunity to acquire vehicles to work on, which usually come in the form of lemon buy-backs, high-mileage trade-ins or new cars that have fallen off car haulers.
“They’re very difficult partnerships to obtain these days,” Hidy said. The downturn in economy, coupled with downsizing have forced manufacturers to become “real selective,” he said.
But if a partnership is obtained, “it’s an awesome deal,” he said.
The program has recently entered into a partnership with Snap-On tools that will, among other things, provide the college with software, curriculum and Web-based training sessions.
Some of the work to be finished, aside from the bays and waiting for the tools and equipment to arrive, is another classroom, parking lot striping, painting the building, landscaping and, Hidy said, the city wants the neon lights that formerly ran along the perimeter of the building to be brought back.
The mostly finished classroom where the students met Monday is part of a 1,000-square-foot, two-room structure built in the middle of the former showroom. One room will be a traditional classroom. The other will offer the students tear-down benches, giving them a chance for hands-on work with engines, transmissions or the like.
“They have been working at lightning speed,” Hidy said of the workers.
Hidy said that he saw 12 construction crews working on the building at the same time – everything from roofing, plumbing, electrical to flooring.
Solano College’s governing board approved the lease in January and it was anticipated the students would start the first week in February as opposed to the beginning of January when the rest of the college started classes. Classes will be a half-hour longer each day to make up for the three weeks that were lost.
The three-year lease agreement worth $748,696 calls for about $400,000 in improvements to be footed by the landlord but will be recouped through the three-year term with an 8 percent interest rate that boosts the rent to $12,534.60 each month.
Even though partially done Monday, the students had plenty of questions as they embarked on a new adventure in a new location. One with a more professional feel to it, Marshall said.
Then there was the feel of growing up.
“We won’t feel like we’re in high school anymore,” said 19-year-old Jacob Solorio.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.