Susquehanna County Commissioner Alan Hall says he is outraged and disappointed with the Tuesday morning announcement that the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas will be pulling up stakes from New Milford Township to open a facility in Wyoming County by the fall semester in 2021.
Hall said the county commissioners were not notified by the school until Monday of this week about the move.
The commissioner noted that Susquehanna County is the largest natural gas producer in the eastern part of the state; and second statewide only to Washington County in production.
The School of PNG opened in Susquehanna County in 2010, just off Interstate 81 in New Milford Township.
According to a press release issued Tuesday morning, renovations are already underway at the former Thomas’ Supermarket in the Tioga West Plaza along business Route 6 for a facility that will more than double the school’s current class size.
“The new facility, including a state-of-the art laboratory and industry equipment will enable growth unavailable at our current site,” said Lackawanna College president Jill Murray. As enrollment at the school continued to climb, so too did the need to diversify the curriculum and offer more courses.
LC PNG program director Sue Gumble said the program has outgrown its space at its current facility. The lab at the school will expand from approximately 2,000 to 5,000 square feet. There will also be an equipment yard nearby where apparatus will be stored as it is moved in and out of the labs for instruction. A lot of equipment that is currently outside the classroom modules at New Milford will be taken inside for dismantling and reassembly.
“This will allow for more hands-on training for students,” Gumble explained, adding that compressed air lines in the labs can be hooked up to the machinery to demonstrate how it functions. “If the piece doesn’t work, they will have an opportunity for trouble-shooting.”
According to the press release, PNG school faculty are hopeful that the current COVID situation will have abated by next year so the school can be opened to full capacity. If not, they are prepared to enhance already planned safety features and will still be in a better position to safely accommodate more students. “It will make it easier to adapt to COVID guidelines,” Gumble related. “We currently have 25 students in a class, so we have to split them into two classes. There, we will be able to spread them out in one class.”
In addition to more space, school administrators feel that the Tunkhannock Township location is more central to the pool of students they want to attract. “This will make us equally accessible to students in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, as well as Bradford, Sullivan and Susquehanna,” Gumble remarked. “Plus it’s so close to where most of the industry is, including Cabot, Southwestern (SWN) and Williams. It will make it a lot easier to get industry people in to lecture.”
“This is good news for the natural gas industry as the School of PNG has been key in providing Southwestern Energy with trained interns and employees,” said Mike Narcavage, senior government and community relations manager for SWN. “Southwestern Energy is a strong supporter of the school, and we anticipate that to continue into the future.”
The two-year program, which maintains a balance between book work, hands-on lab time, and field trips to gas-related facilities, includes a summer internship between the first and second year. While the curriculum at the school is constantly evolving to keep up with technical advances in the gas industry, companies from as far away as Illinois and Kentucky have been contacting the school because they too are in need of freshly-trained employees.
Murray stated, “We are also excited to extend our curriculum into new areas unrelated to the petroleum and natural gas industry, such as business and human services.”
As the curriculum expands, some classes may begin at the new location as early as the spring semester, at which time there will also be a public ribbon cutting. Currently enrolled PNG students will stay put until next year as the equipment with which they are currently working can’t be moved until the end of the school year.
*Susquehanna County Independent Editor Staci Wilson contributed to this report.