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Construction of a $43 million technical education center officially began Wednesday with a ceremonial groundbreaking by Utah lawmakers and representatives of Salt Lake Community College.

Flanked by smiling dignitaries, SLCC President Deneece Huftalin turned over a small patch of dirt before taking the controls of an excavator to dig up what will soon be the site of the Westpointe Career and Technical Education Center.

"You could do a lot of damage on that thing," Huftalin said of the heavy machinery.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved funding for the 121,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to consolidate SLCC's career training and applied technology programs for students in Salt Lake County.

Westpointe is scheduled to open in 2018, and Huftalin said the facility will combine general education space with on-site career training.

"We needed to bring all of our programs together," she said, "so our students could work side by side as welders or electricians or our folks in advanced composites to understand how integrated that world is."

The new campus will be located at 2150 W. Dauntless Ave., between Interstate 215 and the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Huftalin said she hopes Westpointe will be an iconic addition to the county's northwest corner, and that the facility is designed to be "nimble" and adaptable rather than relying on permanent furniture and classrooms blocked off by steel walls.

"We have technology advances, and business and industry practices that are moving at the speed of light," she said. "We have to be able to create a building and a training program that is responsive to those needs."

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said businesses in the state too often are required to "cannibalize" and compete for the same workers in technical fields.

He said the addition of Westpointe to Salt Lake Community College is an important investment in preparing Utah's workforce for market demands.

"I'm done with cheap socks and outsourcing everything around the planet," he said. "That's not what the United States is. We have a manufacturing sector, we have workforce, we're not going to become a service-oriented economy."

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said lawmakers considered several funding requests during the most recent legislative session. He said the decision to invest in the Westpointe Career and Technical Education Center was easy once the purpose and plans for the center were understood.

"This is the future of education, not only in Utah but in the world," he said. "We talk about engineers and the amount of engineers that we need, but for every engineer there's a multiple of skilled laborers that are trained at facilities like this." Twitter: @bjaminwood