Ron Campbell knew his lineworker training class wasn’t going exactly as he planned when a snake fell on him from the ceiling.
“It was a black snake, but it was still a snake,” Campbell recalls with a shudder. “And it definitely stopped me from doing what I was doing.”
Fast forward to May 2019, when Campbell, retired vice president of safety & training for the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, flashed a broad smile during the dedication of a $1.5 million, state-of-the-art training center for co-ops in a three-state region.
“This is my dream here,” says Campbell, part of a crowd of 120 that included officials from Fluvanna County, Virginia, co-op and community leaders, businessmen and elected officials.
For years, VMDAEC had conducted lineworker training in a 15-by-15-foot patchwork classroom next to an aging vocational-technical center in Culpeper.
“You’d look out the window and see what we called Lake Culpeper,” Campbell quips. “It was a septic tank. The guys would go in the bathrooms and the snakes would be hanging from the ceiling, looking for the rats.”
In 2013, training moved to three modular structures in Palmyra on land that Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) leased to the association. In time, CVEC sold the land to the association at a favorable rate, paving the way for the 9,600-square-foot building on 9 acres adjacent to the co-op’s district office.
“This building is a great investment in a number of ways,” says Gary Wood, president and CEO of CVEC. “It’s a deposit on the continuing investment co-ops are making in Fluvanna County. It’s an investment in all the instructors and trainers because you now have a great tool to deliver your messages. And it’s an investment among co-ops in our relationship because our strength comes from the partnerships we share.”
The building has three classrooms — one each named for Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. The rooms employ state-of-the-art video technology with a touchpad system to control lighting and A/V equipment. The building also offers a full-service kitchen with a catering window, a break room, and showers in the men’s and women’s restrooms.
A large garage bay provides space for equipment demos and training in inclement weather. The outdoor area includes a mini-substation and practice poles and wires. An outstanding feature is the bronze Storm Soldier statue, developed by Arkansas sculptor Ron Moore, that stands 20 feet above the ground.
Richard G. Johnstone Jr., president and CEO of the association, said the completed project represents the best of the cooperative spirit.
“Every single one of our 15 member cooperatives contributed financially and contributed to the planning because they saw the need for such a facility.”
In time, thousands of cooperative employees and directors will pass through the center’s doors, he adds.
“In addition to lineworkers, we’ll be providing training to engineers, accountants, customer service representatives, and the elected directors who serve on the boards of our member cooperatives,” he says. “This is a red-letter day for us. We are realizing a dream that we’ve had for decades with a facility that we’ve planned for years.”