Gavilan College’s HVAC Center was a vision three years in the making

Photo courtesy Jan Janes, Gavilan College Career Education Dean Sherrean Carr (center) talks to a student at the grand opening in August at the new HVAC Center.

By Jan Janes

Gavilan College Career Education dean Sherrean Carr, along with Superintendent/President Dr. Kathleen Rose, attended a conference in 2016, listened to a sector navigator discuss the viability of HVAC trade jobs with mid-level salaries and turned to one another. “Dr. Rose asked, ‘what do you think?’” Carr recalled. “We agreed: This fits.”

Carr reached out to the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) sector navigator for more information. “He got so excited,” she said. “Someone in the audience was listening.” No other community college in the Central Coast region offered the training, so Gavilan College was ideally situated to offer the program.

Research led to the Career Education dean at Laney College in Oakland and its successful HVAC program, and the colleges coordinated on curriculum. Carr also looked into the program at San Jose City College.

“We discovered Jonathan Cronan, who helped with the work plan and was absolutely invested in establishing a successful program,” Carr said. Cronan has since joined the Gavilan HVAC faculty.

Space on a community college campus, always at a premium, was opening up. The Airframe Maintenance Program (AMT), housed in a section of the Multipurpose Building, was set to relocate to San Martin Airport in the fall of 2016. “We knew that space would become available,” Carr said. “We could convert that space for the HVAC program, and I knew it had to be there.”

As the long-term dean of Career Education, Carr earned a reputation of knowing where the money is and putting all the puzzle pieces together. This time, her efforts rebuilt the AMT program, managed its move and launched the HVAC program. To publicize the new center, she prepared packets of literature. “I walked into every single HVAC company in Gilroy and Hollister,” she said. Her goal was to promote the program and ask for support on the advisory committee. “From those visits, we recruited Chris Mabie and David Duerr as additional faculty.”

Gavilan Facilities Director Jeff Gopp, who had just finished managing construction of the hangar at San Martin Airport, turned his attention to renovating the now-empty area for an HVAC center. “This is big equipment, state of the art equipment,” Carr said. “He knew the equipment we needed, how to manage all the compliance issues, how to navigate California Division of the State Architect inspections.” Gopp located the architects, ordered the equipment, enticed building contractors away from Silicon Valley, and installation began last fall.

HVAC classes started with a soft launch, testing the viability of the program. “All of the faculty are totally invested,” said Carr. A fourth instructor, Gopp, was silent about teaching until the center was almost complete. “He is so excited and passionate about teaching in this program,” she said.

Local industry response has been strong. “Every company I visited was asked to be on our advisory committee,” Carr said.

The community turned out for the grand opening of the Gavilan College HVAC Center in late August, equipped with personal fans and ready to tell their stories. Current students praised the faculty and curriculum, and curious students were ready to sign up.

HVAC is funded by California State Strong Workforce annual funding. Graduates of the program can earn $22-40 per hour. HVAC technicians are trained in maintaining and repairing equipment in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Industry growth trajectory predicts adding HVAC tech jobs at a 15 percent rate through 2026.

“This program will be a success because of many people,” Carr said. “The vision of Dr. Rose, the commitment of faculty, and all the staff who helped in the development.”

Jan Janes teaches journalism and communications studies at Gavilan College.

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