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(Milton, WI) Nick Crow, Gazette    

Jacob Rudnitzki sat quietly in Mark Prosser's welding class Monday listening to the instructor discuss the class syllabus.

"The welding industry has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the 70 years before that in terms of equipment, process and how we do things," Prosser told the students.

It was the first day of classes at Blackhawk Technical College campuses, and Rudnitzki said he was excited to be a part of the inaugural class at BTC's new Advanced Manufacturing Center in Milton.

"I like to put things together, so I decided to go into welding," Rudnitzki said. "It's a good career base, and there is a need for it."

The Blackhawk Technical College Advanced Manufacturing Training Center is a two-phase construction project that launched in 2013.

The $12 million center is intended to help connect local students to local employers interested in students with training in manufacturing. It consolidates all manufacturing programs into a larger space than that of the central campus. The center will have new equipment, labs and classrooms so students can train among several disciplines at once.

The project is being financed through private donations, bonds and promissory notes approved by the Blackhawk Technical College District Board and the Wisconsin Technical College.

Rudnitzki, 18, said he hopes to find a career in aluminum welding and has heard good things about the program at BTC.

"I like this new building," Rudnitzki said. "There's a lot of space. I've had buddies who have had successful careers after going to BTC, so I thought it was a good college to go to."

The new training center opened Monday to the welding, computer numerical control and industrial mechanic programs. It will open in August 2015 to the automation; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and mechanical design programs.

As of Monday, 127 students were attending in-program classes at the training center, which is housed in the former home of ANGI Energy Systems.

"We had a space limitation at the central campus," said Bill Lobenstein, industrial maintenance instructor. "We had to share space with CNC and the welding lab. We went from around 800 feet of space there to 5,000 square feet here."

Lobenstein said the additional space allows instructors to give students a better education with the most modern equipment.

"We need to provide them with the educational tools to make them better students and we can do that here," Lobenstein said.

Lobenstein said that although his section isn't completely full, he has seen an increase in enrollment in each of the past few semesters. He had 25 students Monday and predicted the number would rise now that the program is housed in the new manufacturing center.

"Now that we have a facility, I think you're going to see what we have to offer and where we are taking the program," Lobenstein said. "I'm almost giddy driving down here to see what I get to teach in.

"It's unbelievable what's offered to us now. It's a showcase facility."

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