For more than 40 years, the Horace M. Albright Training Center has been preparing NPS employees for the future. On Friday at 1 p.m., the center's staff hosts a re-dedication that celebrates a $7.5 million renovation that prepares the facility itself for the future.
After about a year and a half in temporary quarters in the old maintenance building across the street, classes resumed in Kowski Hall at the start of this month.
Center Superintendent Costa Dillon said the project, which is the first major renovation since the center was built in 1963, corrects a host of code violations by removing asbestos, rewiring, installing sprinklers and replacing the heating and ventilation system.
"There were a lot of health and safety problems," he said. "We were at the point where we weren't going to be able to use the apartments at all. This improves our ability to teach, it gives us more classroom space and better classroom space, better health and safety and energy efficiency."
Also part of the project was a new wing to Kowski Hall, breakout rooms, interpretive signage and space for a small Grand Canyon Association bookstore.
But more than that, it introduces technological advances that will enhance training for both students and instructors. Dillon said these weren't part of the project when it was designed in the late 1990s but delays in funding made it necessary.
"Technology had changed so much," he said. "We realized we weren't going to be back in here until 2006, and we didn't want to open a new building with technology that's eight years old."
This meant a new computer network tied into a climate control system that knows when rooms are occupied. They have also added a wireless remote control system for audio-visual equipment.
"Before, the instructor had to go up into the control booth," Dillon said. "And if something wasn't in focus, they had to go back up and fix it. The new system is all controllable from the classroom."
They've also adopted voice-over-Internet protocol that enabled them to put telephones in apartments.
"The phone system in the park couldn't have handled an additional 72 phones without this," he said.
Eventually students will have Internet access in the rooms as well.
There are two training centers in the National Park Service the Stephen T. Mather Training Center, named for the Park Service's first director, in Harpers Ferry, Va., and the Albright Training Center, named for NPS' second director. Along with on-site training, the centers produce online instruction that is part of continuing training for NPS employees.
Though they are based at Grand Canyon and work closely with the park, Albright is a separate entity administratively.
Established in 1957, the center was originally based in Yosemite National Park. Dillon said there is no record of why Grand Canyon National Park was chosen as the permanent home for the center, it is clear why the center is based in a National Park.
"By putting the training center in a park, the park can serve as a laboratory, as a place to view those things," he said. "For example, the Bureau of Land Management has its training center in Phoenix, right next to the Metro Center. It's a nice training center but they can't really do outdoor things there. Here all we have to do is go out the door."
According to Dillon, more than half of NPS' employees have attending training at Albright. Since the Fundamentals II program was established in 2002, more than 1,300 NPS workers have attended. That course is intended to give all employees an overview of how the Park Service works and how jobs interrelate.
"These people, they work in a budget office, or they work in an entrance station or they're backhoe operators, where they only see their part of the job. They don't see the big picture," he said. "So when they come here, we give them perspective that's larger than that. How does the park operate? How are decisions made?"
During the day on Friday, the training center will showcase and celebrate the dedication and talents of the National Park Service employees, partners, and volunteers who protect the parks and provide recreation opportunities for millions of Americans. There will be tours of the facility beginning at 10 a.m. and resuming following the rededication ceremony. For information, call 638-7981.