Shelton partnership could mark major step for city

Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education Interim Chancellor Dr. Susan Price recently placed her stamp of approval on a move that will allow the City of Demopolis to pair with Shelton State Community College.

“Approximately 30 days ago, the interim chancellor, Dr. Susan Price, was able to get an okay from the board, including Miss Ella Bell, who is the state board of education representative for this area that Shelton would be (allowed to partner with Demopolis) – and the terms of the deal are it’s a three-year trial run,” Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson said.

The move marks the culmination of years worth of efforts that will allow the City of the People to move out from under the umbrella of Alabama Southern Community College, the Monroeville based institution located approximately 100 miles from Demopolis. For a three-year trial period, Demopolis will be allowed to partner with Shelton State, a two-year college whose Tuscaloosa location puts it about 60 miles from Demopolis.

“It’s location,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Al Griffin said of the benefits of the city and its school system being allowed to partner with Shelton State. “The fact of the matter is, most of our students that choose to go the (junior college) route, most of them go to Shelton. What was the Shelton line was right across the river. We’re so excited that the department of postsecondary and the state board of education chose to allow that.”

“It makes a lot of Shelton State to be our community college partner on this endeavor because the overwhelming majority of our students want to go to Shelton State,” Grayson said before noting that Shelton State already has existing partnerships with the University of West Alabama, the institution with which Demopolis has partnered in the operation of its higher education center. “Shelton State already is partnering with UWA on a number of other projects. So, it just makes sense that if they are already together, can speak the same language and most of our students are going there, it’s a no brainer.”

The move provides Demopolis with a convenient and logical partner in its quest to make extended technical education and courses a reality within the city.

“This is an awesome step for us,” Griffin said. “I thank the board and the city administration and the entire  town of Demopolis for supporting us with this commitment. Without a doubt, (this is going to help) when the chamber of commerce and city leaders go to recruit industry when they see we have a program teaching these people these types of skills and awarding these types of credentials and you have a workforce that is at least in preparation.”

“Shelton State is one of the best in terms of technical training. When we say technical training, we’re talking about welding, we’re talking about machine tool technology,” Grayson said. “Of course, we won’t be able to do the full range right out of the shoot. But the main thing we’re going to operate on is the machine tool technology. For stuff like that, we’ve already got the equipment in, $3 million (worth of equipment.”

The equipment, which belongs to the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) program, has been in place for months in the Cedar Street facility that formerly housed the New Era Cap Company.

“It’s already in place at New Era. It has not been wired and leveled and hooked up and all that, but we needed to get the green light before we went to that expense so it wouldn’t be jerked out from under us. But it’s all in place there,” Grayson said.

Grayson also indicated the New Era building could potentially house other training options in addition to providing a home to many of Shelton State’s technical offerings.

“The New Era building is 62,000 square feet. We’re only talking about using a fraction of that, the northern part, which is toward the old stadium. We’re talking about maybe 15,000 square feet. We have been talking to another group for another training facility, totally different nature, down on the south end,” Grayson said. “So, if we took, (15,000 square feet) here, (20,000 square feet there), that’s (35,000 square feet.) We’ve still got 30,000 square feet that, if we wanted to use it as a business incubator or if there was somebody that needed loading docks and stuff, we could put a business in there because we’ve still got an office in it. We have a lot of options on that.”

Now that the partnership with Shelton State is in place, the entity will begin installing programs in Demopolis. According to Grayson, leaders of the initiative hope to have non-certification courses up and running in Demopolis within three months.

“They hope to have the truck driving up within 60 or 90 days,” Grayson said. The biggest hurdle in the way of truck driving and similar courses is the decision regarding where to house such classes. A challenge unique to a truck driving course is the need to provide a practice track where would-be operators can hone their skills.

Other Shelton State offerings will become available in phases with some being installed as early as this fall.

“The technical part, the machines, as soon as we can get that all hooked up and ready to go, we’re looking at probably January 2013, which is spring semester,” Grayson said. “As far as the adult (education), which they want to use the Ratliff Center, that will help our folks, those folks who for whatever reason  never completed high school. That we’re looking at probably within 90 days. The academic part of it will probably not take effect until Fall 2013.”

While the technical training courses will utilize the old New Era building and the adult education courses will be available at the Theo Ratliff Activity Center, the standard academic offerings will likely be offered at the Demopolis Higher Education Center as they become available.

Grayson noted the unique quality of the project, which has been in the works for a number of years, is that it exists as a partnership of five distinct entities.

“The interesting thing about this is the concept,” Grayson said. “What we’re talking about putting together is a four-year institution, a two-year institution, a municipality, a city school system and local industry that have come together to try to make this thing a model. It could be duplicated in a lot of towns.”