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Enrollment is already rising at Germanna's new automotive technology facility in Stafford County.
Germanna's automotive training facility near Stafford Regional Airport
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By PAMELA GOULD
At 47, Carlos Suarez is one of the oldest students in Germanna Community College's automotive technology program.
But the timing of his career change means he's among the first students to take the course at the college's new state-of-the-art facility in Stafford County.
Classes started in August in a 15,000-square-foot Automotive Technology Center off U.S. 1 just north of Centreport Parkway. The center includes a classroom, a 24-station computer lab and two automotive labs with four bays each.
Germanna moved its automotive program from Culpeper County to Stafford this summer because the former site needed extensive renovation and cost $3,000 a month to heat.
The move places the school and students in a better position to serve the region's auto industry, since the majority of auto dealers in the Fredericksburg area are concentrated along the U.S. 1 corridor in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.
With a perennial shortage of automotive technicians, the program is seen as a win for employers and graduates.
Though the relocation means longer commutes for students coming from Culpeper and Orange counties, instructor and department head Brent Wilson said he hopes to develop partnerships with dealers in those areas. The goal is to arrange for students to get experience in shops close to home that could lead to jobs.
Angel Alarcon, 20, lives in the Unionville area of Orange and carpools with classmate Phillip Snellings, 22, of the Wilderness area of Spotsylvania. Their commute may prove profitable in the long run, as the pair are considering starting a truck-repair business together.
Alarcon is getting both career studies certificates offered by Germanna. By the end of spring semester, he will have completed the 24-credit automotive technician certificate and the 26-credit automotive diagnostician certificate. Each program can be completed in a year.
In March 2011, when Germanna President David Sam announced the partnership that was bringing automotive training to Stafford, he said he expected enrollment to grow quickly.
Wilson said that has already begun, with the program adding a section of classes for fall semester for 20 additional students, bringing the term's enrollment to almost 60.