EnCana gives $3 million to CMC | PostIndependent.com

EnCana gives $3 million to CMC

Heidi Rice
Western Garfield County Staff

RIFLE ” There were audible gasps of surprise in the audience during a private party Tuesday night when Colorado Mountain College officials announced that EnCana donated $3 million toward construction of the college’s new Rifle campus.

About 150 people, including CMC board and foundation members, city officials and staff, state Sen. Jack Taylor and other local dignitaries, attended the dressy affair held under a tent in Metro Park. The party included an open cocktail bar and a catered dinner that included salmon, chicken and veal cutlets.

“We are proud to support CMC financially and also pleased to provide scholarships to high school students interested in our industry,” said Roger Biemans, president of EnCana, at a press conference held early Wednesday morning. “It demonstrates our commitment to the community, and this gift is another step in that direction.”

Biemans said EnCana felt that the new CMC campus will not only help the local economy, but also the oil and gas industry through skilled workforce training being offered by the college.

“This new facility will benefit the local economy by helping deliver technology and training for Colorado’s natural-gas and oil industry,” he said. “CMC is helping meet the high demand for skilled workers in this region.”

Talks about partnering together began about a year ago, according to Sher Long, who handles landowner relations for EnCana.

“We saw a great need for a local skilled workforce, and we started talking with CMC,” Long said. “EnCana wanted to participate in a meaningful way, and over the last year we’ve had conversations.”

The college intends to incorporate more oil-and-gas-related educational courses and programs into its curriculum with the addition of more classrooms being planned for the new Rifle facility.

“It’s amazing how much science, technology and math is needed in (the oil and gas) industry,” said Pam Arsenault, dean of the Rifle campus. “With the new facility, we will have state-of-the-art science labs. We’re working on educational infrastructure and bringing higher level programs to western Garfield County.”

The oil and gas programs will not only provide advanced level courses for those interested in employment in the energy industry, but allow more people to work in the city where they live.

“This will provide an opportunity to employ local people, and the natural synergy will allow people to live and work in the community,” Biemans said. “The school district and CMC need to prepare those workers locally.”

CMC president Robert Spuhler said the gift from EnCana will allow the college to do just that.

Since 1981, CMC has leased the current Rifle campus on Railroad Avenue from Garfield School District Re-2 for $1 per year, and serves a student population from New Castle to Parachute and Battlement Mesa. But the 80-year-old building is no longer suitable to the district’s needs, is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and has a lack of parking and classroom space. It also has no room to expand.

The CMC board is currently mulling over two possible sites in south Rifle for the new campus. One is south of Airport Road, across from the Wal-Mart Supercenter, and the other site is 1.5 miles away to the east adjacent to Airport Road and Mamm Creek Road.

Pending review of engineering studies and cost analyses, the board is expected to make a decision on the site at their next board meeting on June 6. According to Spuhler, construction on the latter site could begin in April of 2006 and the campus opened in spring of 2007.

The other site, behind the Grand River Medical Center, would require Federal Emergency Management Agency approval, which could take up to a year to obtain. If selected, construction on the site could begin in April 2007, with a summer 2008 opening.

“I took a blood oath that we would have this done in the next three years,” Spuhler said with a laugh.

The new campus, known as the West Garfield County Campus, will be named the EnCana Academic Center.

The $3 million contribution puts CMC at the half-way point of its estimated $6 million goal to build the new campus. The remaining funds will be sought through public and private donations from sources in the Colorado Mountain College district and statewide partners, along with property taxes and funds from the Colorado Mountain College Foundation. The college does not intend to wait until all the funds are in to move forward on the project, and a request for proposals is expected to go out in June.

Had EnCana not made the generous donation, Spuhler said the campus would still have been built, but maybe not as quickly.

“If we had not received this gift, we would still be talking about a West Garfield County campus,” he assured. “But maybe not in the 2006-07 time period.”

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