HARRISBURG – A new 20-acre “simulation city” in Armstrong County to provide hands-on experience for students learning a utility trade received a boost this week in the form of state funding.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced state support for the construction of the facility at Armstrong County’s Northpointe industrial park where students learning trades can get hands-on practice installing water, gas, electrical and sewer lines.

“One of the most important ways we can strengthen our workforce is to empower job seekers,” Wolf said. “The development of this unique training facility in Armstrong County will give hands-on experience that will lead to real opportunities for Pennsylvanians looking for family-sustaining jobs.”

The Armstrong County Industrial Development Council was awarded a $750,000 grant to construct the Critical Infrastructure Workforce Academy, which will feature residential, commercial and industrial “neighborhoods” for students to practice handling a variety of standard and hazard scenarios.

The $3.5 million “city” will also host classrooms, locker rooms, field labs, meeting areas, office space and kitchen areas. The school is expected to attract 15,000 students by the end of its fourth year, which will generate secondary economic growth while providing needed workforce development training.

“This is the first step in a unique project that will assure reliable services — gas, electricity, water, sewer and telecommunications — are safely delivered to homes and businesses across Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Don White (R-Indiana). “The Critical Infrastructure Workforce Academy is being developed within Northpointe to fill an existing void of properly trained workers in the utilities and energy sectors. Training our current and future labor force for the quality jobs available in the utility infrastructure sector must be a top priority for our region and this funding will begin that effort.”

Supported through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), funding will support critical expansion projects, some of which will provide opportunities for additional economic development.

Armstrong County Commissioners Pat Fabian, Jason Renshaw and George Skamai said yesterday (Tuesday) that they have been working with the county’s Industrial Development Council for the past two years on the project.

“Although still in its infancy, we are proposing the development of a Critical Infrastructure Workforce Academy (CIWA),” the commissioners said. “Designed as a multi-utility training facility, preliminary plans call for the construction of a 20-acre simulation city complete with residential, commercial and industrial ‘neighborhoods,’ an electrical and communication lineman’s center, water, sewer and gas facilities.

“In addition to class work, each neighborhood will include multiple utilities allowing workers to be trained in real world conditions,” the commissioners said. “Gas workers will encounter waterlines and electrical services, water company employees will encounter electrical and gas, etc., allowing for unlimited training and hazard scenarios.

They said the project is supported by the utility industries as a means of improving public safety and attracting a new workforce.

“We want to thank Sen. White for his support and assistance and Gov. Wolf for believing in the project,” the commissioners said. “This is a large scale endeavor and the recent grant announcement is a critical first step.”

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