Clover Park Technical College’s new aviation training facility at Pierce County Airport on Puyallup’s South Hill has gotten off the ground and is expected to be ready for classes in time for the winter 2000 term.

It will be a welcome change for the program, which traces its roots to World War II, when the Clover Park School District trained civilians to repair military aircraft.

Formerly a facility of the Clover Park School District, Clover Park Technical College (CPTC) is today under the jurisdiction of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Yet many of the buildings on its campus remain World War II vintage, since the campus is a former Navy supply depot. There is a 2,000-foot airstrip where students who are enrolled in the College’s Commercial Pilot program learn to fly.

The need for a better aviation training facility, combined with the school’s master plan, are behind plans for the new 53,000-square-foot structure at the airport, known as Thun Field.

For student pilots, the new facility means more runway to work with—the Thun Field runway measures 3,500 feet. It also takes student pilots out of the McChord Air Force Base flight path.

Students enrolled in the maintenance programs will find it means more space for hands-on instruction in training facilities designed specifically for their technical needs.

When CPTC broke ground for the new building in October, the ceremony was held on the school’s newly constructed helicopter pad. CPTC is one of the few training institutions in the country that offers courses in rotor-craft maintenance in addition to fixed wing courses.

The new facility won’t come too soon for aviation maintenance technician instructor Mike Potter. The program currently is run out of a 1970’s hangar, says Potter, adding that the wood and concrete building keeps the aircraft out of the weather but it isn’t conducive to teaching or learning.

“When this hangar was built, the folks in charge thought all we needed was a great big empty building to put airplanes and other stuff in,” Potter explains.

“There was no provision for a shop area separate from the airplane storage,” Potter says. When the hangar door is opened in the winter, everybody gets cold. When it’s open in the summer, everybody gets hot. There’s no clean-room. When you do sanding, dust gets everywhere.”

Sometimes students and instructors in the Commercial Pilot program find themselves competing with the noise of aircraft repair, but that’s just one of several problems that should be solved once program gets into its new facility.

“The architects designed it to our specifications, both technically and aesthetically, ” CPTC Public Information Officer Judy Davis says of the new facility.

The task of designing a functional and visually appealing building went to McGranahan Architects of Tacoma.

“The opportunity to design an aviation facility doesn’t come along very often,” says architect Darrin Filand. “We worked closely with school officials to make sure the new building would meet their needs.”

“If there is a need to take the plane apart, they have the room,” Filand says. “We built specialized labs where aircraft frames or engines can be worked on.”

The new building is wired with fiber optic cable, which, according to program instructors, is a welcome change from relying on modems and fighting for phone lines to reach Internet resources.

The CPTC Aviation Technologies program is unusual in that students in the Airframe and Powerplant program are tasked with keeping the Cessna 152, 172s, 182s and Pipers airworthy. From the Flight Operations room, student pilots watch classmates maintaining the 10 aircraft training fleet.

CPTC President Sharon McGavick insisted the building be available for community meetings when not in use by students, so the non-flying public also will have an opportunity to benefit from the new facility.

By Meg Godlewski for the Business Examiner