After a six-year wait, one of most successful programs at Gavilan Community College hosted grand opening ceremonies Tuesday for its new home at the San Martin Airport.
The school’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program began in the 1960s at Hollister Airport and is the only aviation career-training program of its kind in the region.
“This is a whole new chapter for Gavilan College,” said Kathleen Rose, the school’s recently hired superintendent and president as she stood near the cluster of renovated classrooms and a new hanger, replete with a Piper airplane for students—one of three planes students learn on.
“One of the first things I got to do as CEO was purchase a plane, not many CEOs get to do that,” she quipped.
Several dozen well-wishers, faculty, local officials, representatives of chambers of commerce and the two candidates in the November Gavilan board of trustees election, Danielle Davenport and Rachel Perez, joined Rose for the ceremony.
Others at the Tuesday afternoon ribbon cutting included representatives of U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Santa Clara County District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman.
Rose thanked county and San Martin Airport officials and college staff, among others, for their assistance in making the project happen during a six-year effort that was not without its trying moments.
Instructor Herb Spenner said the program has 30 students but a capacity for 50; graduates of the two-year course have a robust employment market waiting for them, he added.
With the skills acquired in the program, graduates can work for airlines, corporations with private planes, helicopter operations, the space industry, or can go into business for themselves, as one graduate did in Alaska, said Spenner.
He has taught at Gavilan for six years after a career in military aircraft design.
Indeed, United Airlines had a recruiter, Ana Maria Pena, at the event.
“The industry is ready and waiting to hire,” she said, adding that she attended as part of United’s efforts to open a pipeline to employment for Gavilan’s aviation graduates.
The course teaches the basics and more advanced aspects of engine and airframe work and readies students for Federal Aviation Certification—the experts who deem aircraft airworthy or not—according to Spenner.
He is one of three instructors in the program and all are Gavilan graduates, he said.
“This a great example of how Gavilan is meeting the needs of the community,” said Gavilan College trustee Walt Glines of Gilroy.
“This project will enable the college to double the number of students who will be in line for good-paying jobs in the ever-growing aviation field. Many land jobs at Bay Area airports. The grads earn around $57,000 a year to start,” he said.
Spenner said salaries can reach into six figures.
Glines called vocational programs such as the Gavilan’s aviation courses “a mainstay” of community colleges. “Not everyone wants to gain a two or four-year academic degree,” he said.
Trustee Tom Breen of Hollister called the new airport location, a “very simple and I hope effective use of taxpayer money.”
The program moved from its headquarters at the Hollister Airport to the college’s main campus in Gilroy in 2010. For the next six years students divided their time between classes in the campus Multipurpose Building and lab work at San Martin Airport hangars.
With the help of former District 1 supervisor Don Gage, talks began in 2010 with the county, which owns the San Martin Airport, aimed at relocating the whole aviation program to that facility.
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors approved a 20-year lease with two five-year renewal options, according to the college.
Sherrean Carr, dean of Career Technical Education overseeing the aviation program, said in a college press release that the overall process, from first inquiry to groundbreaking for the new construction, was slow but steady. She credited success to the aviation faculty, many departments at the college, numerous people at the county and especially the efforts of Fred Harris, vice president of administrative services, who got everyone to “yes” during the process.