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Lone Star College has issued at least $150 million of its latest bond package to “get things going,” with groundbreakings scheduled and ongoing, according to the college’s chancellor.

In November 2014, voters approved a $485 million bond measure for Lone Star College to fund new technology centers and academic buildings as well as security updates, building renovations and an additional 3,300 parking spots across the various campuses.

If everything goes according to plan, officials will complete the last bond project by 2020, Lone Star College Chancellor Stephen Head.

The construction projects have been divvied up into three phases in order to stagger the work, with construction of six “advanced technology centers” first on the docket.

The bond dedicates nearly $100 million for the centers, which are intended to provide specialized workforce training in a variety of fields including oil and gas production, commercial construction and computer technology.

“Most of our current workforce facilities are 10 or 15 years old,” Head said. “You just have to stay current, you have to stay modern. We’re emphasizing these programs more than we ever have, just because there are really good jobs out there.

Head discussed Lone Star’s expansion in a phone interview. He said being the chancellor is like “being the dad of about six different kids,” referring to its six campuses.


Quick growth

According to Head, enrollment at the college has doubled over the past seven years and the administration is trying to keep up with a rapidly growing student body.

“We are the fastest-growing community college, in terms of numbers,” Head said. “We added 5,200 students last fall and I think we’re going to add another 4,000 this fall… The average community college in Texas is 5,500, so every year and a half or so, we grow another college – an average community college.”

And Head is certainly seeing the effects of the growth – campuses need more buildings with more classrooms, students need more parking spots and existing buildings need renovations.

Lone Star conducted an intensive survey to determine which jobs were most in demand in the Houston area by speaking with major employers, analyzing trends and working with economic development officials. Head said they decided to pursue programs that would best prepare students to fill those job openings.

Fred Welch, executive director of the Greater Conroe Economic Development Council, said Conroe has seen an increase in demand for welders and workers in the health care field.

“It’s a combination of new jobs being created and the aging of the work force,” Welch said. “I think (Lone Star) is doing a great job working with the communities and working with the businesses and industries to make sure they’re really meeting the needs that will help our economy continue to grow and expand.”

Rick Hatcher, president of the Greater Montgomery County Chamber, said welder and health care positions are also the most in-demand jobs in Montgomery County, along with technical jobs in the oil industry. According to Hatcher, the nursing program offered at Lone Star College’s Kingwood campus has helped to meet the demands in the medical field.

While planning for the advanced technology centers is underway, Head said construction on the additional buildings funded by the bond is contingent on enrollment.

“We’re going to be flexible about this,” Head said. “We have some historical numbers, but that just depends on the economy and several different factors…If our growth does not justify adding the buildings, we’re not going to add the buildings.”

 

‘Premier workforce facilities’

The focus on improving workforce training through the six new centers was a key component for getting the bond passed. Three years ago, a tea party group in Montgomery County helped to defeat a similar bond proposal by the college, saying it wasn’t satisfied by Lone Star’s responses to its questions about how the money would be spent. Those conservative activists did not oppose the recently approved bond.

“I think when we get through with this, we will have the premier workforce facilities in the country, I really do,” Head said. “I really pushed hard on these advanced technology centers because I think that’s what we should be doing.”