Lennox Partners With Salina Tech

Students in Chad Townley’s Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning class finally got to see Wednesday what was in the huge boxes that had been on one side of the shop since classes started three weeks ago.

The boxes contained two complete home comfort systems from Lennox International, valued at more than $11,000, one a pretty typical unit, and the other representing the state of the art in home climate control.

As the students looked at the equipment and started reading about the specifications, they were joined by Mike Moore, Director of Training for Lennox, as well as Bill Roberts, Kansas Field Technical Consultant for the company and Tom Pestinger, owner of Pestinger Heating and Air in Salina.

They were at Salina Area Technical College to announce that the college had been chosen by Lennox to work with the company to help create a new training program that the company plans to eventually take nationwide.

Moore went around the class, asking each student why they were enrolled in the HVAC program.

“I had worked in a factory, and it was the same thing every day,” said Rakeen Allison. “I wanted to do something that would be different.”

Other students noted that they’re learning a set of skills they can take anywhere in the country if they decide to live someplace else.

It’s also a field with a nationwide shortage of trained people, Moore said, explaining why he was in Salina Wednesday.

“There’s a shortage of 25,000 skilled HVAC people right now,” Moore told the class. “And people are retiring. If we don’t reverse that trend, we’ll be short 100,000 by 2022.”

More than a year ago, Moore said, Lennox decided to create a nationwide training program to recruit people into the HVAC field and help technical colleges train them; but to begin with, the company wanted to work with one school as a pilot project. After more than a year of searching, Lennox selected Salina Tech.

“We went around and looked at a lot of schools,” Moore said. “Salina Tech has a great dealer support in Tom Pestinger, a great facility, a great teacher, and great students.”

Later in the year, Pestinger said, students would have an opportunity to ride along with his company’s installers and technicians, and he urged them to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Forty-five years ago, I was in your shoes,” Pestinger told the class. “It’s been a great career – and we’re always hiring.”

As the test site for this new Lennox training program, Moore said, Salina Tech would get the newest equipment as it’s developed, such as the high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning units unboxed Wednesday.

Roberts explained that the smaller air-conditioning unit has a SEER (energy efficiency) rating of 16, while the high-end XC25 model has a SEER rating of 26 – the highest rating available.

It also has a variable capacity furnace, with an efficiency rating of 98 percent, which can run at anywhere between 35 percent and 100 percent capacity. Running at lower capacity for longer periods of time uses less energy and avoids swings in temperature. “You don’t just get a blast of hot air, and then the house cools and another blast of hot air,” Roberts said.

The equipment donated by Lennox also included several wireless thermostats, which can be monitored and adjusted over the Internet, and can even send an email to the local dealer if a problem is detected.

Understanding such new technology is important, Moore told the students – but it doesn’t stand alone.

“It’s important to know this equipment and how to fix it,” Moore said. “But you also have to know how to work with your customers. If you can do that, you’ll separate yourself from the rest of the pack.”

Salina Tech’s HVAC program offers students a nine-month program leading to a Technical Certificate, and a two-year program leading to an Associate of Applied Science degree. High school students enrolling in the program at the start of their junior year can earn the Technical Certificate by the time they graduate from high school. Tuition for high school students is free.

Salina Tech was founded in 1965, and now has 15 full-time programs in which students can pursue either a Technical Certificate or an Associate of Applied Science degree. It also offers numerous short-term classes throughout the year. The New York-based Aspen Institute has ranked Salina Tech in the top 10 percent of community colleges nationwide four consecutive times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked the college ninth in the nation among two-year colleges based on its graduation rate.

Story from Mike Strand / Salina Area Technical College