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The Brockway Center for Arts and Technology [BCAT], a multiyear collaborative effort, is currently in the final stage of its planning phase. Its doors are scheduled to open in January 2013 with initial program offerings in medical billing and coding, and pharmacy technician.
BCAT board members were on hand during a recent meeting of the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission's board of directors to discuss the newly-established facility.
It is a project of the National Center for Arts and Technology, building on the success of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation.
"Probably about 15 years ago or so, I was working in a different state and in a different organization at the time, but I remember somebody talking to me about an exciting training concept taking place in downtown Pittsburgh in the early 1990s," said Eric Bridges, executive director at North Central. "I was part of a group of folks who got in a car and drove to Pittsburgh to kind of see what this exciting concept was. It was my first exposure to the Bidwell Center and my first introduction to Bill [Strickland]."
Bridges described Strickland as a "dynamo, a pretty powerful and amazing guy," and said Strickland gave Bridges and his colleagues a tour of the facility.
"It was amazing. It was located at the time in what was considered to be a pretty rough part of downtown Pittsburgh," Bridges said. "There was this bright beacon right there in the middle of it and we had the opportunity to talk with [Strickland] as we toured the facility, and we got to interact with some of the students. It was a really powerful experience and one that I vividly remember."
Leaping forward more than a decade, the conversation was still fresh in Bridges' mind.
"I remember when we'd have conversations about how our region is going to reconnect and recommit to addressing higher education issues and skills development issues, and post-secondary challenges unique to our region, and it was intriguing to hear that the Manchester Bidwell Corporation was part of that dialogue," Bridges said. "Fortunately for us, the opportunity materialized for our region where we'll hopefully be able to borrow and integrate some of the techniques and tools that have worked so well in Pittsburgh.
"Senator [Joe] Scarnati has been intimately involved in this process and has really been a champion and supporter for this type of activity."
Mark Adams, a field representative for Scarnati working out of the senator's Brockway office, was in attendance during the Wednesday board meeting and discussed the necessity of trying to get updated education in the northern part of rural Pennsylvania.
"It started about two or three years ago when the senator met with John Sutika [DuBois Regional Medical Center president] and some representatives who were thinking about doing some of their own training within the hospital," Adams said. "I appreciate that they took a chance with the senator as they were asked to put those plans on hold for a while. We were working through some things and we're now hoping that it's going to work out pretty well for us all.
"We appreciate Pete Varischetti and the Varischetti family. Projects like this do not work unless you have commitment from developers like the Varischetti family, who not only believed in what the senator's ideas were but monetarily got involved as well. You have to have some skin in the game and [the Varischettis] really anted up on this project and the senator appreciates this."
Members of the BCAT board present Wednesday included Ray Calhoun, Dan Hawkins, and Duane Vicini, along with Sutika and Varischetti. Deborah Heigel, the executive director, was also in attendance.
"The Brockway Center for Arts and Technology is the result of collaborative efforts from many individuals, primarily Senator Joe Scarnati and Manchester Bidwell CEO Bill Strickland," Varischetti said. "The goal of the center is to provide more opportunities in our region for two groups of people: high school students, and the goal there is to provide them with opportunities to learn about the arts, have an introduction to the arts and learn that thought process, and then through that, these high school students can gain more of an appreciation for not just the arts themselves, but for themselves as well.
"They can learn to appreciate and believe in their own skills, and by doing such, and it's been proven at Manchester Bidwell, they can use that to propel them into further educational opportunities."
Pick up a copy of the Friday, Aug. 24, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.