JULIAN - Nestled on a hill in Julian, just off of US 119 in Boone County, is a sprawling facility that offers far more than what may meet the eye at first glance.
Running Right Leadership Academy and Conference Center, owned by Tennessee-based coal supplier Contura Energy, opened the doors to the $24 million training facility in 2013.
"Nobody knew then what that would look like or what it would ultimately be," said Director of Administration Gary Frampton as he offered a personal tour of the 136,000-square-foot facility encapsulating four primary structures. "A group of people traveled the country and asked other training facilities what they would do differently. From Los Angeles, to Wyoming to Chicago to Morgantown, they came back and applied that data to the building of what you see here today."
Frampton, who lives in the East Bank area of Kanawha County, has an extensive history of working in the coalfields.
Built on surface mine land that had been abandoned, ground was broken for the academy in June 2012 and classes started in building 3 in June 2013.
The aesthetics are modern with a sprinkle of coal history told through a series of stunning photographs that hang in the hallways of the facility.
The slogan, "Come As You Are" greets visitors at the entrance.
"We want people, like the ones in a mining class here today, that each individual needs to accept what they have to offer," he said. "Too often in the decades past, training wasn't as extensive as it could and should have been and we are changing that."
In specific classrooms, 480-volt circuits are available to facilitate high-voltage electrical or hydraulic components to allow students to break them down for hands-on learning about why components fail and how to address specific problems.
All classrooms are equipped with the latest audio and visual technology. Specific walls are designated for thousands of signatures of people who have completed classes.
A large 350-person capacity hall with seating and tables is available, with massive screens and cutting-edge audio technology available for rental to the community. Proms, weddings and banquets are often booked with plenty of room for catering and access to kitchen facilities on site. The Appalachian Community Theater, area high schools and the Kanawha Valley Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are among the many clients.
"If you want to hold an event here on the weekend, we'll let you start working on it on Wednesday afternoon and we won't charge you extra for that time," Frampton said. "You can come in during the day, evening or overnight. We will accommodate your schedule."
Frampton switched careers within the Contura family when the facility opened. He went from ordering materials for mining coal from the offices a few hundred yards away to working within the new facility since 2013.
"I just saw an opportunity to touch thousands of lives and their families," he said. "It has been fantastic and a great opportunity for me I had to accept."
In one classroom, a hydraulics simulator and a proximity simulator are available for students to analyze. Operations training and maintenance training are covered.
The facility is used for training not only within the region, but also nationally. On this day, Leadership Academy instructor Gary Stewart works with Contura Energy employee Timothy Smith regarding the inner workings of a high voltage relay panel.
A weld training building equipped with track railing allows heavy equipment to safely enter the facility for training purposes, allowing students the opportunity to tear the equipment down and rebuild it. Recently, 29 people have become certified welders at the institution and are active in the workforce today.
There are 12 stations that are used for training both stick and (MIG) welding with capabilities for (TIG) welding training.
Frampton said the ever-changing landscape within the coal industry has an effect on the training that is offered.
"I'm a coal miner and I should never have to be looking outside of coal," Frampton said. "With that said, I tell these young people that we have to get to where 50 to 60 percent of our business is outside of coal and you have to do that if you're going to make it. We are looking at doing more aggregate things and mobile training. We need to be versatile."
Leadership and maintenance training are part of what Frampton and his crew can provide with mobile capabilities and he is searching for more opportunities to grow in that area.
Training includes, but is not limited to, annual refresher training in electrical, maintenance, hydraulics, leadership, EMT and an assortment of others including certified foreman print testing.
The award-winning training facility boasts fire brigade training and a 300-foot-wide by 300-foot-deep underground mining simulated training facility that is perhaps the most impressive area of the training landscape.
"This is as close as you can get to walking through a real, active underground coal mine," Frampton said. "Safety training through film watching occurs here as well."
A ventilation system is active and working, along with multi-million dollar equipment that allows students to see and operate real-time working systems. Frampton added that he welcomes schools and other organizations to tour the facility.
Safety training is a major part of the services offered with industry related scenarios created underground, offering students a realistic experience.
A fully operating power center is on site, which was made by American Electric in Beckley. Roof bolt machines, smoke simulation and a fully functional belt drive system give miners a real-feel education.
Modern safety features like light cords are installed on the belt machine, which have become commonplace on the equipment. If a miner loses their personal lighting source, the cord lights can offer perspective regarding where the belt is.
Frampton said his 46 years in the mining industry has been an amazing experience.
"I'm absolutely blessed," he said. "I think we've made a huge difference here in Boone County and we want to continue that. Coal is now being shipped all around the world. That market is global now. We have learned to diversify and to make our training available on a mobile basis. Locally, we've received great support from the Boone County Commission and Sen. Dr. Ron Stollings. We look to continue to have a positive local presence and be a big part of this community."
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.