Construction work on the Odessa College Sewell Auto Tech Center is approaching the finish line.
The facility located at 2425 E. Eighth St. will serve as the training ground for automotive and diesel technology students in addition to the college’s truck driving academy. There is not a set grand opening date for the facility but Onyx Contractors Project Manager Daine Innerarity confirmed projects are on track to be completed by early September.
Students could have access to the new 37,800-square-foot facility by the end of October. In the meantime, operations will continue at the current automotive facilities on the OC campus.
During a tour of the new facility, Jay Bradford of JSA Architects in Odessa gave an overview of what the interior layout will look like once equipment and furniture are in place.
The front portion of the facility will be utilized as a multi-use space for reception, offices and display of students’ work. Six classrooms line one of the hallways just before arriving at the shop section. Two of the rooms will have truck driving simulators installed.
Instructors and students will also have use of a 12,800-square-foot automotive technician shop equipped with 12 service bays.
“ There’s going to be an alignment bay in here so that they can learn how to do alignment on cars and an entire section for tires and brakes too,” Bradford said.
The shop includes multiple labs that are each specific to different areas of trade.
The first two labs are where students can take apart and reassemble vehicle transmission systems and automotive engines. The lab at the back end of the facility is reserved for diesel engines and can hold up to four diesel trucks. The diesel technician shop area is about 8,000 square feet.
Tim Roberts, an automotive and diesel technology instructor at the community college, said the facility will bring the program into the 21st century.
“ We’re getting square footage, we’re getting a more modern facility and more up-to-date equipment and training materials,” Roberts said.
OC Director of Media Relations Cheri Dalton said making improvements to infrastructure has been a priority on campus to better serve students. She said enrollment in the automotive programs has been strong, but what the college lacked was a facility with enough space.
“ For this fall, we are sitting at 207 students and that does not include students that will be coming to us from OC TECHS, (Odessa Career & Technical Early College High School),” Dalton said.
Collin Sewell, president of the Sewell Family of Companies, donated the seven-acre site, where the former flagship Ford-Lincoln dealership once stood, to OC after the dealership relocated to the Parks Legado Town Center.
Sewell previously said strengthening the automotive programs at the local community college would help offset the general shortage of automotive technicians in the area.
Dalton said a concern expressed by OC Automotive and Diesel Technology Department Chair Robert Turner was the nationwide industry trend that for every five master technicians that are retiring there’s only about one coming in.
“ (Enrollment) is increasing some, but not to the rate that the industry needs them,” Roberts said.
Automotive service technicians and mechanics, bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists are listed on the Texas Workforce Commission’s targeted occupations list for the Permian Basin region.
Dalton said the starting salary for an automotive technician who has gone through about one year of schooling and attained a level I certificate is between $20 and $25 an hour.
“ This facility will allow us to continue to serve more students, thereby helping the businesses in the area that really need the technicians that come out of here,” Dalton said.
Funding for the facility was pulled from a $68.5 million bond package passed in 2010 for OC’s campus improvement project called Vision 2015. The Sewell Auto Tech Center is the last remaining item of those improvements.
The Odessa Development Corporation also awarded $8 million to Odessa College in 2017 to provide equipment and facility upgrades for growing professions. ODC’s website states those funds were largely used for the automotive and diesel technician facility, and partially funded other program areas such as radiologic technology, instrumentation technology, truck driving and occupational health and safety.