Southern Illinois celebrates new transportation education center

A new SIU facility aims to take programs to new heights.

A grand opening was held Friday for the new Transportation Education Center at the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. The $63 million, 228,000-square-foot complex contains classrooms, faculty offices, teaching labs and meeting rooms and serves three SIU programs . It was commemorated at the event by university and state leaders, students, faculty, staff and program alumni.

The complex’s construction began in summer 2010, and the automotive technology, aviation management and flight, and aviation technologies started using the center in August.

Connor Mueth, right, from St. Louis, and Ben Mensen, left, from Salem, both sophomores studying automotive technology, perform an alignment using new equipment Friday during the SIU Transportation Education Center’s grand opening. Chancellor Rita Cheng said during her closing speech that the $62.8 million state-of-the-art facility is an investment in students, their education, the university and the region. Mueth said the center’s benefits are already noticeable. “The equipment we now have is much more similar to what we will be using in our careers,” Mueth said. Tiffanny Blanchette | Daily Egyptian

“The old facility did not match the program’s excellency,” SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng said at the reception.

David Bias, a senior from Chicago studying aviation flight and management, said he thinks the education he has received at the university finally matches the facilities. Bias said some of the facility’s new features such as vehicle lifts in the automotive technology labs and simulators for aviation students are big improvements from their former locations.

“All this put together helps us continue being the best,” he said.

Cheng said SIU had to convince people of the programs’ quality before the complex was built.

“This will promote the bringing in of industry professionals on a more interactive level in the classroom,” Cheng said.

She said the university received donations from motor corporations that complement the new facility. During the opening reception, representatives from Chrysler and GM gave the automotive technology program a 2013 Dodge Dart and a 2013 Chevy Silverado.

“For our program to have such a new technology to work with sets us apart from other programs,” Cheng said. “We greatly appreciated these donations.”

Charles Priester, SIU alumnus and co-chair of the campaign to construct the center, said these changes are only the beginning.

“The aviation and transportation industries are the backbone of the economy,” Priester said.

He said this facility was a great step to encourage those involved in aviation engineering to move forward in the industry and create more environmentally efficient technology.

Jim Underwood, executive director of the Illinois Capital Development Board, said many energy-efficient attributes were put in the new TEC facility such as 300-foot-deep geothermal wells that extend from the center to the Southern Illinois Airport. Another example is the construction team’s effort to recycle 76 percent of the construction’s waste.

“I know SIU had its sustainability day recently, and this building adds to those efforts,” Underwood said.

Lawrence Jeralds, automotive technology professor, said he has been with the university’s automotive technology program since 1996, and this new building will be a huge improvement.

“The old building was bad,” Jeralds said. “The office was in the old army barracks cafeteria. We would have raccoon problems, and the roof would leak excessively whenever a bad storm came.”

Jeralds said the whole department enjoys being in the new facility, and the transition has gone smoothly.

“We had a No. 1 program in the old building, so imagine what we can do now,” he said.

Jeralds said the program will see many benefits now that automotive and aviation students are under one roof.

“We are going to dream big,” he said.

Joshua Terry, a senior from Joliet studying automotive technology, said the Carterville facility was an old World War II army barracks.

“There were holes in the wall for the air conditioning, leaking roofs,and tight spaces,” he said.

Terry said he and his peers have been attending classes in this new facility since the beginning of the semester.

“I am really excited about this building, and I am glad I get to experience it my last year here,” he said.

Terry said students had to go outside to examine a vehicle in the old facility, whereas there is a vehicle and a lift in the new facility’s classroom.

Nicholas Struchil, a senior from Naperville studying automotive technology, said the professors are who make the university’s program so notable.

“I think now that we have great teachers and a great facility, students looking at SIU coming into this field will really want to come,” he said.

Struchil said the TEC has made the learning process easier for students in the automotive program, and resources are much more accessible.

Jack Raible, a freshman from Chicago studying automotive technology, said students who attend class at the TEC also wear a new uniform. He said the uniforms are a good part of a new look the TEC has brought to the university.


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