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Challenger seeks funds for new CSET building anticipating 2015 oil staffing boom

Posted: September 11, 2013 - 10:15pm

The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska is seeking funding to construct a facility adjacent its Kenai building to run its Coldwater Survival Egress Training program, the only one of its kind on the West Coast, CEO Marnie Olcott said.

Last year, she said, the center trained more than 900 students.

The new $11.2 million, 14,668-square-foot building would allow the center to annually accommodate three times as many students, she said.

“You’re looking at 2,500 students, if the need were there,” she said.

Kenai City Council at its Wednesday council meeting passed a resolution supporting the development of the new facility. Olcott told the council that students in the CSET program boost the city’s economy — they sleep in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.

Mayor Pat Porter and council member Tim Navarre said the additional business is welcome.

“They have proved themselves,” Navarre said. “(The new facility would) be a great addition to our community.”

The Kenai Central High School pool, where the CSET program has been based, will accommodate overflow students, Olcott said. Last year, the center had to turn away students because the pool has only been available portions of the year, she said.

“It’s a very needed training center,” Olcott said, “and with the current facility that we have here, we are unable to keep up.”

Klauder & Co. Architects Inc., a Kenai-based company, was awarded the contract for the building’s architecture. Olcott plans to open the training facility July 2015.

The CSET program serves any personnel — often those in the oil field industry — that travel over open water in helicopters. Because no other program on the West Coast uses a Modular Egress Training Simulator — an simulated helicopter cabin on a crane — students travel throughout the state, country and world to enter the program, Olcott said.

Anticipating a 2015 boom in North Slope staffing, and the inevitable influx of more international students, the center is pursuing an international training certification from OPITO International, a certification that is becoming the international standard for helicopter-escape training, Olcott said.

With its new training facility and international helicopter-escape training certification, the center will be able to serve more students, she said. Alaska companies have had to seek training out of state because the center’s CSET program was not OPITO certified, she said.

“We’re on target to make sure we’re poised to handle the training needs,” she said.

The center has raised $1.2 million, she said. The remaining funds are planned to be composed of $3 million from industry partners, $2 million in public and private grants, and $1 million in federal appropriations, according to a facility document. Also according to the document, the center has requested $5 million from the Alaska State Legislature.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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