The walkway outside the CEET building

The Building That’s a Classroom

Bill Lace, TCC vice chancellor emeritus

When Cody Wilson first entered South Campus’ new Center of Excellence for Energy Technology (CEET), he offered a succinct critique – "WOW!"

"It’s amazing," the Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology (HART) student said. "It’s just so impressive the way they have everything laid out so you can see how everything in the building works."

Color coded ducts line the ceilings

Ducts and pipes crisscross the corridor ceilings, colored and labeled as to what is being carried where and why. The low-pressure return ducts are orange, those for medium pressure are purple, the natural gas pipes are yellow and on and on – right down to the brown ducts for toilet exhaust.

The show and tell continues with the mechanical rooms, not tucked away in a basement, but sitting proudly on the ground floor, their workings visible through soundproof glass walls. In case the viewer has no clue as to what these workings are, signs outside explain, for instance, that the air-conditioning equipment in Room 2205A-X is rated at 23 tons with an air-handling unit capable of transferring 262,000 cooling BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour. And the electrical equipment in 1201A-X has transformers of 500, 300 and 225 kVA (kilowatt volt amperes).

But wait, there is more! Three large, touch-screen monitors provide real-time data on the CEET’s energy consumption, show a time-lapse video of its construction and give information on exactly what went into it. If anyone wants to know how many gallons of paint were used (3,200) or sheetrock screws (84,000), it is all there.

That is just the inside. Outside, ramps leading to the entrances cross small canyons planted with native grass, shrubs and cacti to hold in place the specially designed soil mix that captures runoff from pavement and roofs, filtering out pollutants and allowing the earth below to soak up cleaner water. The accompanying sign for these bioswales encourages the viewer to think of them as giant sponges.

Up the ramp, the trellis separating the two halves of the H-shaped facility features 416 solar panels that, at maximum capacity, deliver 138 110-volt kilowatts to the building. A wind turbine soon will appear to make its contribution.

The official ribbon cutting

All these "wow" moments do much more than satisfy idle curiosity. They provide real-world, real-time examples to students in the programs now housed in the Center – HART; Construction Management; Oil and Gas Technology and Renewable Energy – as well as those on the drawing board, such as Plumbing, Electrical, Hydraulic Systems and Building Automation.

Most TCC buildings contain classrooms; this one is a classroom.

Students go to a lecture, then they walk out of that classroom and see exactly what they just talked about. What better learning element can you ask for? The building is one of the instructors...literally.

President Peter Jordan

Students learn to diagnose and repair HVAC units in a hands-on lab

"There’s not another building like this in the country," said Thomas Ford, interim dean of the South Campus Business and Technology Division.

Ford’s assessment gets no argument from Allen McCree, project manager for Freese and Nichols, the Fort Worth firm that designed the complex. "That’s a fair statement," he said. "It’s a pretty unique facility in that it’s a teaching tool and not just a place to teach."

With all the eye-popping aspects of the Center as a teaching instrument, it is easy to forget that the actual classrooms and labs have their "wows," too, including:

  • a 2x4-framed, 900-square-foot house that can be
  • by construction students, equipped with air-conditioning by students from that program and, eventually, wired by prospective electricians
  • a two-room refrigeration lab with a geothermal heat pump that can remove heat from one side and pump it as hot water down five 300-foot wells where it goes through a heat-transfer process to come back up as cold water that can be used either to heat or cool, as required
  • general purpose classrooms with shades that close automatically to the proper dimness when a visual presentation is being made with lectern computers that can transfer what an instructor writes with a stylus to a large screen.

Not to be overlooked is the largest room in the 87,000-square-foot, $42 million facility. It’s labeled the Multipurpose Room, but Jordan would like that rather ho-hum designation changed to Fusion Auditorium to signal one of its primary functions.

Students look on as an instructor demonstartes a technique in the hands-on lab

"What we want to do is make connections with industry here," said Jeff Rector, building technology department chair. "If I bring Lennox (the HVAC firm) in here to do some training, we can do it rent-free and I can sign it up as a Community and Industry Education course. We also win when they walk across the threshold because they’re going to tell somebody and that’s going to bring someone else. We want to get those people involved in what we’re doing."

That dovetails nicely with what Jordan calls his "vision trifecta" – educating students for current and future careers, providing a forum for business and industry to train employees and showcase products and providing a resource for the community at large – including the students in South’s new early college high school – to learn about energy consumption and how to use it wisely and economically.

The CEET also, in Jordan’s view, is one sign of a renaissance at South Campus. "I like the term ‘renaissance’ and don’t think a renaissance is necessarily preceded by a dark age," he said. "But the fact is that when the campus lost the Nursing Program, which really was a huge part of our identity, there was a period, and it may still exist to some extent, where we were trying to reclaim that identity. And so the whole area of industrial technology and energy technology allows us to refocus the curriculum, the culture and the academic and educational focus."

A view into one of the many classrooms through the large, glass door

‘Renaissance’ is a good word to describe what’s happening on South Campus. I think that for our technological faculty and all our faculty teaching in academic areas, this building has been an inspiration.

President Peter Jordan

Time-lapse Video of the Construction

Construction Facts

  • 93 new trees
  • 5,810 square feet of zinc
  • 3,280 gallons of paint
  • 22,266 square feet of glass
  • 305,000 cinder blocks
  • 84,000 sheetrock screws
  • 425 solar panels
  • 4,373 new plants
  • 16,510 cubic yards of dirt excavated
  • 840 tons of steel
  • 29,565,000 pounds of concrete
  • 6,707 linear feet of foundation piers

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