Former Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole needed a little help when he started a new job in 2000.
The new gig was serving as president of Bates Technical College. And that’s where Ebersole turned to learn about using email and computers, which he realized would be crucial in his role leading the Tacoma institution.
“I had to update my skills to even do my job there, because I was educated in the era of the card catalog versus Google searches,” said Ebersole, who also was a speaker of the state House in the 1990s. “I actually took a course.”
Ebersole is among thousands of students who have received training from Bates since 1941, when the vocational school moved from the basement of a Tacoma elementary school to a downtown location on Yakima Avenue.
Over the past three quarters of a century, Bates has expanded to include three campuses across the city, offering many two-year technical degree programs as well as continuing education courses and certificates.
Today, the college serves about 3,000 students annually in nearly 50 career programs, as well as nearly 10,000 community members who take courses there each year.
As the college celebrates its 75th anniversary this year — 76th, if you count the first year in the basement of Hawthorne Elementary School — Bates leaders say the school isn’t done growing.
“As technology has become more sophisticated, Bates’ emphasis has changed from lower technology fields to higher technology fields.”
Brian Ebersole, former Tacoma mayor and past president of Bates Technical College
This month, the college marked its big anniversary by opening a new building, the Advanced Technology Center, which houses its information technology, engineering and digital media programs at its Central/Mohler Campus on South 19th Street.
Next up, the college wants to rebuild part of its downtown campus on Yakima Avenue to include a 70,000-square-foot health sciences facility, while adding a campus entrance at the corner of Yakima and Earnest S. Brazill Street.
The $40 million project, which officials hope can be completed by the end of 2019, will create a more pedestrian-friendly campus center that is closed to most vehicle traffic, said Ron Langrell, the college’s current president.
Langrell said the college’s plans, as well as its recently opened technology center, signal Bates’ commitment to preparing students for high-demand fields such as health care, engineering and computer technology.
“Bates is moving toward a much more comprehensive status as the downtown technical college for our region,” he said.
MOVING FROM SKILLED LABOR TO HIGH TECH
Ebersole said that, over the years, Bates has transformed from an institution focused mainly on producing skilled laborers to also helping prepare people for high-tech careers.
All along the way, it has been “a wonderful reflection of Tacoma,” the former mayor said.
“It began during World War II to help the nation supply armaments, and has touched the lives of thousands and thousands of Tacoma families ever since,” said Ebersole, who led Bates as its president from 2000 to 2003.
3,000 Number of students Bates Technical College serves annually in career training programs
50 Approximate number of career programs the college offers
10,000 Number of community members who take other courses through the college each year
Ebersole said the college’s evolution is particularly evident with the construction of the Advanced Technology Center, a two-story building that houses digital programs the school’s founders could never have envisioned.
“As technology has become more sophisticated, Bates’ emphasis has changed from lower technology fields to higher technology fields,” Ebersole said. “That’s certainly accurate in the new campus, with the television studio and the training in all kinds of digital fields, some of which would certainly surprise the early industrial labor leaders.”
Langrell said the new facility also gives the college a chance to advance its mission of helping underserved communities in Tacoma. Overall, Bates’ students are about 60 percent minorities, Langrell said, and he thinks the college’s three campuses are ideally positioned to help train people from Tacoma’s most diverse neighborhoods.
In addition to its campuses downtown and on 19th Street, Bates has a campus in South Tacoma that maintains a focus on manufacturing and aerospace programs, he said.
NEXT PROJECT IS HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER
Bates received about $23 million from the Legislature to help complete the technology center project, a green building that added 52,000 square feet of space.
Bates officials now are seeking $2.9 million from the Legislature to complete design work for their proposed Medical Mile Health Sciences Center, which would replace an aging white stucco building on the downtown campus.
The project also would create a gateway to the downtown campus adjacent to the new health sciences building.
If state lawmakers approve the money this year, design work will begin immediately.
There’s a huge need for medical professionals in the community. There’s a huge need for living wage jobs in the community. This project can put the two together
Wayne Doty, capital budget director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, on the need for a new health science center at Bates Technical College
Then, during the state’s 2017-19 budget cycle, the State Board for Community Technical Colleges would ask for $37 million to build the project, said Wayne Doty, capital budget director for the board, which directs the state’s 34 community and technical colleges.
Doty said one reason the state board recommended the Bates project for funding this year was because the new health sciences center would fill a great need in the Tacoma area.
“There’s a huge need for medical professionals in the community,” Doty said. “There’s a huge need for living-wage jobs in the community.”
“This project can put the two together and provide the training people need to get those living-wage jobs.”
Additionally, the existing building on the downtown campus was constructed in 1958 and is in such bad condition that it would be more expensive to repair than replace, officials say.
The building needs seismic upgrades and contains hazardous materials including asbestos, Doty said.
SCHOOL LOOKING FOR NICHES TO FILL
Langrell said one of his goals with the new health sciences building is to produce graduates who are ready to work at nearby hospitals and clinics on Tacoma’s Hilltop.
The college plans to add four, as-yet-undetermined health sciences programs in the new building, he said, and is working with nearby hospitals to develop the curricula for the programs.
“When you think about MultiCare, Community Health, Group Health and St. Joe’s, all within blocks of the college, we ought to be a primary service helping people in our neighborhood access those health careers,” Langrell said.
These are baccalaureate program tracks that no one else offers. It’s really a new direction for us.
Ron Langrell, current president of Bates Technical College, on four-year degrees Bates wants to offer
Bates also might start providing four-year degrees in the coming years, Langrell said. The college hopes to offer its first bachelor’s degree as early as fall 2017, Langrell said.
That program, a baccalaureate of applied science in fire command, would be a unique offering in the state, Langrell said.
The college also has its eye on starting a four-year program in early childhood education as soon as 2020, he said.
“Our focus will always be on the two-year technical programming, but these are baccalaureate program tracks that no one else offers,” Langrell said. “It’s really a new direction for us.”
Key dates for Bates Technical College
1940: Vocational training begins Sept. 4 in basement of Hawthorne Elementary School in Tacoma.
1941: The college’s first building is constructed at South 11th Street and Yakima Avenue. It was officially named the Tacoma Vocational School.
1944: LaVerne Hazen (L.H.) Bates hired as the school’s director.
1947: School’s name is changed to the Tacoma Vocational-Technical Institute.
1969: Bates retires as the institute’s director; the Tacoma School Board changes name to the L.H. Bates Vocational Technical Institute.
1991: New state law separates Bates and other technical colleges from local school districts, merging them under the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.