HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A joint program between Marshall University and Mountwest Community and Technical College in aviation maintenance broke ground ceremonially on Friday, The Herald-Dispatch reported.

The program is a collaboration with the Huntington Tri-State Airport, where an existing hangar and an armory are being renovated. Creating classroom and laboratory spaces is expected to cost about $2.7 million. The program already has received two planes and they plan to add seven more.

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“Metaphorically, I will say that Mountwest and Marshall are flying in new airspace here,” Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said at the groundbreaking. “The joint program is the first of its kind, and we hope it will serve as a model to other institutions in the state.”

The program, which is expected to start up next spring, will give students right out of high school an opportunity to get a certification in aviation maintenance or complete general education courses through Mountwest for an associate degree, following the certification of the program from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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Airport Director Brent Brown said the program will give people a chance to learn and later work locally instead of having to go to other states to find jobs. There are 95 acres of flat land at the airport, and Brown hopes the maintenance program provides chances for expansion and further development.

Gilbert said he hopes the program will also help attract aerospace companies to the region.

Gov. Jim Justice reminded those in attendance of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash that devastated the area. The new program is a way for the region to rise from those ashes and pay tribute to the 75 lives lost, he said.

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