Heidi Zemach for SCN
Three hundred and seven students from across Alaska have moved to Seward for a while and have begun attending the second semester offering of classes at AVTEC – Alaska’s Institute of Technology. After Orientation on January 5th, their classes began January 6th. Those students who aren’t here already will be arriving by the end of the month for classes that begin later.
The spring semester boasts a variety of programs including the construction trades program, which had been on a hiatus since instructor Bill Basinski retired last spring, said AVTEC Director Fred Esposito. New construction trades instructor Doug Hoftiezer, who hails from Wisconsin, has joined the staff.
But the greatest change of all is that many of the students are starting the 2014 school year living in the brand-new 120-bed dormitory facility on Third Avenue. It’s a significant difference over last semester, when they lived in hotel rooms at the Breeze Inn, and were bused over to the cafeteria and classes. And before that, they lived in the former dormitory building, built in the late 1960′s, which was showing its age. It was dark and leaky, was either too cold or too hot, and had few gathering spaces in which students could socialize, relax, and enjoy one another’s company.
Now, everything is sparkling new, energy-efficient, and social spaces abound, topped in magnificence by Marathon Hall, a large two-story room with views of Mount Marathon, provided with a variety of game tables and an upper living-room area with couches, chairs and a television.
The old dorm was razed last March to make room for the new building, which was built offsite in 39 modules to reduce costs, allowing the project to be completed faster. They were quickly pieced together on-site, but entering the beautiful solid building these days, one would be hard-pressed to tell it was made that way.
“The most important thing is we have a lot of students in the new dorm, the old dorm and family housing, so our residential facilities are being well utilized, and there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm on the part of the students to be the first students in the new dorm,” said AVTEC Director Fred Esposito. “The new residential facility represents AVTEC’s focus on providing Alaskans with world class training leading to great careers,” Esposito said. “Providing facilities that are conducive to studying and inviting to live in compliments AVTEC’s quality training and reinforces the value of a post-secondary career and technical education.”
“I think it’s a wonderful building, and you know all the students are happy and really positive about it and it’s awesome. It’s awesome to have it,” said longtime dorm attendant Marti Wallis. She’s a motherly figure to the students, many of who come from small remote Alaska villages, and she makes it her business to get to know all of them. Across from the ground floor office where she, and Dave Paperman were still working at 6:30 Wednesday evening, students from the power plant program gathered around a flat-screened television in the lobby to watch a basketball game. “They’re not all spread out like they were at the Breeze Inn, so it’s good to have them all here with us, it’s awesome,” Wallis said.
Calvin Jones a returning student from Selawik, Alaska, a remote village below the Arctic Circle, remembers what it was like to live in the old dormitory back when he attended AVTEC in 2001-2002. He remembered the thick blanket he used to keep himself warm at night: “I like the facility. We don’t have to share one shower for the whole building, it’s a big improvement,” Jones said. Most of the dorm rooms are private, and have a doorway to their own bathrooms, shared only with the student in next room. There were televisions in the old dorm rooms, he said, but now students can watch games together, or rent or purchase their own TV.
Michael Keener, who attended AVTEC last semester, was playing Ping-Pong with fellow student Allan Roy Tumbaga in Marathon Hall Wednesday evening. He’d lived at the Breeze Inn last semester, which was alright, but took some getting used to, he said.
“It’s a lot better and there’s a lot more to do with the other students, Keener said.
“It’s awesome, it’s really spacious and it’s a really good facility,” said Tumbaga, who is studying refrigeration, and intends to take plumbing and heating classes after that.
The 35,000-square-foot facility was built by the same team responsible for the adjacent AVTEC Alaska Culinary Academy building – a collaboration of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s AVTEC, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Cornerstone General Contractors and Nvision Architecture. The team received an AIA Alaska Merit Award and AGC of Alaska Meeting the Challenge Award for the adjacent AVTEC Alaska Culinary Academy.
AVTEC, a part of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, has a long history of providing area employers with trained and skilled technicians, ship captains, professional cooks and bakers, welders, mechanics and electricians and other professions. Students can be certified to be able to work in a number of skilled, well-paying Alaska jobs in less than a year, but there are more than 60 shorter training classes offered throughout the year. AVTEC’s main campus is in Seward, with its Allied Health program in Anchorage.