UNI's Industrial Technology Center Looks for an Upgrade
At its November meeting, the Board of Regents will consider granting permission to proceed with project planning to modernize the Industrial Technology Center (ITC) at the University of Northern Iowa. The project, which will add 36,000 square feet to the ITC, would provide the UNI Department of Technology with a modern facility that is tailor-made to train students to become future leaders of Iowa’s workforce.
“The ITC was state-of-the-art in 1974,” said Mike Zwanziger, assistant vice president and director of facilities management at UNI. “It is still state-of-the-art for 1974. The building has not had any significant improvements since it went up despite the growth of the programs it houses.”
Tight lab spaces, outdated classrooms and inflexible work areas better suited for the 1970s than the 2020s currently fill the ITC. Just one of the complex’s bathrooms complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and overloaded, inadequate electrical, heating and cooling systems remain in service.
“All of the offices were designed for desk lamps and typewriters,” Zwanziger said. “The building lacks collaborative spaces and space in-general. Much of the metal casting center’s storage currently is outside. A cutting-edge center like that needs climate-controlled storage.”
The Iowa Legislature appropriated $1 million for preliminary design for FY 2021. The ITC’s remaining state appropriation requests ask for $15.8 million in FY 2022 and $22.8 million in FY 2023. All told, the nearly $44 million project will be buoyed by $4.18 million in private giving, and will provide one of UNI’s most successful workforce training programs with a modern home.
“The facilities we have right now are not as good as some high schools and certainly not as good as the community colleges,” said John Fritch, dean of the UNI college of humanities, arts and sciences. “This project will provide a modern space for our nationally-recognized programs.”
The ITC project would greatly enhance UNI’s ability to prepare teachers in STEM disciplines and to educate students in the fields of Construction Management, Electrical Engineering Technology, Graphic Technologies, Manufacturing Technology, Technology Education and Technology Management. These programs are designed to prepare students to meet the needs of Iowa's workforce and to provide broad experience in technology, construction and manufacturing.
UNI’s engineering and manufacturing technology programs align with Governor Kim Reynolds’s Future Ready Iowa Initiative, which aims to prepare Iowans for tomorrow’s economy through educational attainment and post-secondary training. In addition, Iowa Workforce Development lists construction managers and electrical engineers among its high-demand, high-salary “Hot 50” jobs. UNI’s manufacturing and engineering technology courses are distinguished from more traditional engineering courses, like those at Iowa State University, by adding a greater focus on business applications.
“Our students become project managers when they graduate,” Fritch said. “Expanding and modernizing this facility will remove old spaces where students faced forward and listened to lectures and create new spaces where students can face each other and work collaboratively as they might do in their careers.”
That additional space, be it climate-controlled storage for UNI’s internationally-recognized metal casting center, or modernized classrooms, will go a long way toward strengthening the programs housed there. In addition, UNI administrators expect the ITC project to provide other boosts.
“We have around 500 students in the building right now,” Fritch said. “We hope this project helps us grow that to 700. There is high demand for these students when they graduate, and we want employers to continue to look to us when they need high-quality employees.”