Lake Erie College was established in 1856. So, it’s no surprise the northeast Ohio campus has a wide range of HVAC equipment: chillers, hot water boilers, pneumatic systems…pretty much everything.
With this mixture of old and new distributed throughout the school’s 18 buildings, maintenance can be challenging, and tight budgets add another layer of difficulty. These issues were top of mind for campus Facilities Director Herb Dill and Facilities Manager Rob Goe in 2015 when they came up with an elegant solution.
“We thought it would be a great idea to start a night HVAC class, where we could have people come in and actually work on our buildings, and the buildings would be our lab,” said Dill. “It would be a good way to help people gain certifications and real-world experience and help us supplement our workforce.”
Dill and Goe began devising a curriculum to help adults gain a foothold in the trades. They’d attended seminars that worked exclusively on new equipment. But what about units that are rusted or missing screws? Or located in a crawl space and difficult to reach? And what about the theory – the why – behind the work?
“We wanted to create a program where students understood the difference between a technician and a parts changer,” said Goe. “When people understand the how and the why they become more involved in the process and grow as technicians. They’re not just doing something because someone told them to. They understand it.”
Lake Erie College President Brian Posler liked the idea, but the program was a little outside the box for a small liberal arts college, and he needed to see more. He asked Dill and Goe to come up with a business plan, and, over the following year, they gradually made their case. The program started in 2016.
Their goal was to make Lake Erie College HVACR as rigorous as possible from day one. They wanted their students to qualify for the most challenging certifications from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA®), and others, as well as give them the critical thinking skills they’d need to work independently. Dill and Goe believed a challenging course would increase their students’ value when applying for jobs and union membership.
“We wanted people to say, wait, you went through the Lake Erie College HVAC training, you must be good,” said Goe.
The students worked on everyday projects: fixing steam leaks and rooftop condenser fans. In addition, Dill and Goe helped them with their resumes and brought in HVAC companies to discuss the workplace.
None of this had ever been done before at Lake Erie College, so there was no template for getting it off the ground. Along with their full-time day jobs, the two had to figure out the curriculum and everything else. “We were every part of it: admissions, marketing, curriculum development, teachers,” said Dill. “We did the whole thing.”