NORMAN — It's a high-tech training center and an award-
The center, one of the largest employers in Norman, is opening its doors wider to the public as the Postal Service's need for training is declining.
In January, about 50 full-time positions were cut by the University of Oklahoma, which administers a contract for the center's instructors.
About 20,000 postal employees from across the United States train there each year, said Paul Warrick, manager of the facility. The facility overall reaches about 200,000 employees through its Web-
“We fluctuate to meet the demands from the field,” Warrick said. “We're staffed to meet the postal service's training needs. We are the national training center. There is no other one like us, so whatever training is required around our maintenance operation, we'll provide it.”
Postal use declines
Those needs are declining, said Dionne Montague, Postal Service public relations and communications officer.
“Since 2006, mail volume has decreased by more than 20 percent,” Montague said in a statement. “In 2000, 5 percent of Americans paid their bills online. Today that number has exceeded 60 percent. This mail volume will not come back.”
Montague said this change has led to a 40 percent decrease in enrollment at the training center. Typical training lasts two days to 13 weeks.
“The Postal Service has a lot of mail processing equipment, and any piece of equipment that's in the field, we have on campus,” Warrick said. “The technicians that fix the machines come here to learn how to do that. And they get their hands on actual equipment, so it's a combination of classroom training and lab instruction.”
Vital equipment to the Postal Service includes its digital bar code scanner, which can sort 36,000 pieces of mail per hour. Trainees learn the machine on mechanical electronic technician levels, and hundreds of these machines are in postal centers around the country.
Gary Vannoy, manager of the center's facilities and retail branch, said although certain equipment is proprietary to the USPS, other resources of the center are becoming more available to nonpostal students.
“If you're talking about processing equipment, building systems and automotive, about 95 to 96 percent of (training) is postal. We're just branching out now because a lot of the basics of what we teach is generic in theory but we've just always catered to the postal customer, and as that need goes down to some degree, then we have the facility open to the general public.”
The center also offers courses in heating and air conditioning and roof repair. It houses one of the few elevator schools in the country.
“While we are akin to a vo-tech, we are a more intense version,” Vannoy said.
For instance, the center offers a 120-hour welding course in three weeks, whereas a traditional technology center may offer the course over several months.
In addition to reactive maintenance, the center uses infrared thermography and airborne ultrasound to teach preventive maintenance.
“By looking at a heat signature,” Vannoy said, “we can tell a bearing is going bad about four months before it goes into catastrophic failure. The postal service has gotten heavy into these technologies since 2006, and we probably have the largest predictive maintenance program in the world right now.”
The center's hotel manger, Yves Badaroux, hopes some of the slack in the center's capacity can be taken up by outside visitors. Currently, about 20 percent of the hotel's guests are nonpostal, and that number is rising.
“It used to be in the low single digits a few years ago, but that's our main effort right now, is to market to the public,” Badaroux said.
OU football dates
The hotel is attracting lots of overnight guests on the University of Oklahoma's home football game days, but Badaroux says he's afraid many people don't know the full capacities of the Marriott-
The hotel includes a Route 66 bar and lounge, indoor and outdoor volleyball courts, a full-
The hotel, whose chef harvests herbs out of the carefully tended courtyard garden, also serves as a conference center with a ballroom that can accommodate 800 people. Badaroux said the center hosted about 2,500 guests for the Firehouse Art Center's annual Chocolate Festival in February, and has been asked to serve as the event's site for next year.
The center's campus is a self-
“Because they're away from home for so long, we basically wanted them to have all the comforts of home. It makes it easier for them to be away from home, but it also enhances the learning. If they're comfortable and they have what they need, we believe it makes the learning experience that much better for them,” Warrick said.
We are the national training center. There is no other one like us, so whatever training is required around our maintenance operation, we'll provide it.”