By Stormie Sanchez
Amarillo College is moving forward with plans to purchase the former JC Penny’s building located in Sunset Center on Plains and Western. This will be one of the first steps toward building a new First Responders Academy for the college. The AC board of regents approved the purchase at their regular board meeting Aug. 25.
Building the academy within city limits was not the original idea. According to Mark White, the AC executive vice president, “When we did the master plan we planned on building a new first responder center. We planned on building it on the East Campus. This will be a lot cheaper and the location is great.”
The East Campus, near Highland Park, is where students who are studying to be firefighters are currently trained. The AC Police Academy, however, is currently located across town on the West Campus. The new plan will bring these two programs together, along with other first responder courses for paramedics and EMTs. “We felt like it was important to bring those together and put them in one location,” said Chris Sharp, vice president of business affairs.
Another benefit of the Sunset Center location is its proximity to the future AISD career academy which will offer 10 career pathways for area high school students. “We just thought it would be a good idea to be close to them. A lot of the stuff that they do is what we will be doing in the JC Penny’s building,” said Sharp. “We will coordinate with them and hopefully get their students, when they graduate high school, to come across the street and transition over to Amarillo College.”
The two-story building, which has 50,000 square feet on each level, is far from ready for classes, however. “The building has sat vacant for quite some time. It’s going to need pretty extensive renovations,” said Sharp. “The first thing it will need is a new roof and new decking on it. We will have to do some asbestos abatement, and basically tear out anything that’s in there and get it ready to remodel.”
Once the building is ready for construction, it could take another year and a half before it is ready for students. Although the timeline is uncertain due to everything still being in the planning stages, “it is a really good use of public money because it’s a lot cheaper than building something brand new,” said White.
Sara McIntire, a business administration major, said bringing classes closer together will benefit area students. “There’s a lot of vacant buildings on East Campus that could be used for this program,” she said, “but I would say go with whatever is cheaper for them in the long run, so they have more money to put toward training.”
White said that moving even more programs to the new First Responders Academy is a future possibility, depending on space. “We want to create a really good facility, something that everyone can be proud of and something that will work for training.”