The temperatures outside may be chilly but things are heating up inside the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s (SVHEC) new HVAC Lab. The expanded, 5,000 sq ft space in the Center’s 820 Bruce Street Building is the Center’s new home for the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) program.

Funded by the generous support of the Southern VA Higher Education Foundation (SVHEF), the new lab showcases a 12-seat classroom, skills lab with electrical and oil burning training units, and office space for two instructors. Other project funders include Southside Virginia Community College, Ferguson Plumbing and HVAC Supply, and Trane.

“Workforce training is the driving force in our community. Providing a state-of-the-art HVAC lab speaks directly to that as well as addresses the current needs of those who seek a better quality of life by advancing their skill set,” said Monica Edmunds, SVHEF Board Chair.

Brian Burton, Foundation board member and chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, volunteered his time and expertise to serve as project manager to ensure the renovation was completed on budget and on schedule. Burton stated, “It’s our obligation and duty to reinvest in our community and support higher education.”

The project also received invaluable support from Lawrence “Bucky” Glass, Service General Manager with ComfortSystems USA MidAtlantic who volunteered as a project consultant. Glass lent his industry knowledge and expertise to the project, and served an instrumental role in helping to select industry standard equipment for the training lab.

Dr. Betty Adams, SVHEC Executive Director stated, “We are bursting with pride over the new HVAC lab and incredibly grateful to our Foundation and industry partners for making it a reality. Our region has a need for skilled workers with technical skills, and HVAC is one of the areas experiencing significant growth. There are lots of great jobs available in our area, and this new lab combined with our experienced instructors and program leaders makes an HVAC career more accessible than ever before.”

HVAC@SVHEC is a nine-month, hands-on training program leading to certification in HVAC Levels 1 & 2. Successful program completers gain the knowledge, skills, and certifications needed to enter the HVAC industry as entry level technicians. Past program completers have gone on to work for regional employers including Comfort Systems, Rogers Heating & Cooling, and Strategic Heating & Air.

The HVAC@SVHEC program launched in 2019 with industry support and early success. Because of spatial constraints, the classroom and skills lab were separated, and lab equipment was split between the SVHEC’s 820 Bruce Street Building and the Innovation Center. This less-than-ideal setup made it difficult for the instructor to move back and forth between the classroom and lab. The space also limited the program’s capacity and future growth.

The larger HVAC lab features an extensive lab area with all training equipment in one space, and a classroom just a few feet away. Now, instructors seamlessly transition from classroom instruction to the lab for hands-on skills practice. The new space also made it possible for the SVHEC to add HVAC to its Career Tech Academy offerings for high school juniors and seniors.

The Career Tech Academy welcomed its first group of HVAC students in August 2023.

“It’s amazing to have this unique training space,” said Sandi Satterfield, Director of Workforce Training Programs. “We are continuing to add new equipment and training materials to align with the curriculum and keep pace with the needs of industry,” she said.

The Career Tech Academy is now enrolling students for the 2024-25 school year. The next adult HVAC cohort will begin in August. To schedule a tour of the HVAC Lab or to learn more about the HVAC program email or call 434-572-5568.