Tour gives glimpse of job-training center planned for Modesto Bee building

Central California

MARCH 1, 2017
The Modesto Bee
By Nan Austin

Cutting-edge plans will breathe new life into the cavernous facility that once printed 95,000 Modesto Bee newspapers a day. But the goal of helping develop the region through information and education continues.

A tour given Tuesday in the industrial back half of the old Bee building – an area speakers described as part aircraft hangar, part prison block – laid out a vision for a flexible training facility geared to supply ready workers for waiting jobs.

Opportunity Stanislaus, an economic development nonprofit, will run business-driven technical training classes. The Stanislaus County Office of Education will hold classes and workforce training through its Come Back Kids charter for adults who dropped out of high school. Around 600 adults attend the school.

A daycare facility is planned for the front of the building, serving trainees’ children while training future preschool workers. The old “Beestro” cafe on the second floor may one day provide a culinary arts classroom, said Scott Kuykendall, SCOE’s head of educational options.

The McClatchy Co. built the building in the 1950s, but sold it in 2011 and leases roughly a quarter of it for Modesto Bee offices and newsroom. The Bee expects to move to another Modesto location this summer.

SCOE, based a block away on H Street, bought the blue-tiled building at 1100 H St. and a nearby parking lot for $6.9 million from 1325 H Street LLC of Hanford. Renovation on the back half of the building will start in August, with classes expected to begin in the fall.

Opportunity Stanislaus is leasing much of what used to house the two-story press, ad-insertion area and newsprint storage. The property has back bays designed for truck loading, and a forklift-carrying elevator rises to the second story. Its 600 amps running downstairs and 400 upstairs can power any number of assembly-line training scenarios.

Standing on a concrete floor built 5 feet thick to hold the press, project manager Jim Mortensen said that for 30 years different efforts had been made in the region to train workers. The time is ripe and the need is great, he told assembled business leaders and educators.

“We need a younger generation to just keep the businesses we have, let alone expand. You’re not going to bring anybody to town when they say, ‘Well, what have you got for skilled labor?’ We don’t. We’re scalping from each other,” Mortensen said. “This is the opportunity we have.”

The VOLT Institute, as Opportunity Stanislaus has named its project, hopes to train 250 students a year, explained Dave White of Opportunity Stanislaus. VOLT stands for Valley Occupational and Learning Technical Institute.

The training sessions will have three parts, he said. The first is two weeks of business “boot camp,” teaching things such as arriving on time and staying off cell phones, that will also act as an employer-screening process. The second will be three weeks of training with tools and basic systems. The third phase will be 10 to 12 weeks of intensive training on specific skills employers have identified as a need.

“When we look back 20 years from now, and we think of all the lives it has touched, all the people who will be going to this center when it’s fully up and running, to gain vocation skills that are absolutely critical to their futures,” said business advisory committee member Rich Coffey. “Also 20 years out from now, we’ll look back at all the business in this area here and all the economic development that will come by way of having a dedicated vocational training center.”

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