PITTSBURG — Pittsburg State University is looking for a $1.5 million annual investment from the State of Kansas to establish the “largest transportation school in the country.”

Shawn Naccarato, the university’s director for government and community relations, said the funding would allow the university to expand the automotive department into the school of technology, adding programs for enhanced logistics, alternative fuels and a degree focused on railroads. The initial investment would create additional space, equipment and add faculty.

“I think it is important to bring to (PSU) because of the impact it could have on our current and future students and the ability to grow an area that’s in high demand,” Naccarato said.

A bill in support of the annual $1.5 million investment passed the senate last session, but never made it through the house.

“We had success last year and we are going to go back and push this year,” said Sen. Jake LaTurner, (R-Pittsburg).

Local Rep. Adam Lusker, (D-Frontenac), also supports the proposal. The current budget situation is dreary in Kansas, he said, but this has the potential to generate future revenue.

“It (could) serve as a value to citizens of the state, citizens of southeast Kansas and Pitt State,” Lusker said. “There’s a cost … but it’s an investment.”

Naccarato is advocating for the $1.5 million to be added as a line item within each chamber’s budget committee.

“I feel relatively optimistic about its inclusions,” he said. “I think that it’s right in line with things that the legislature and the governor say that they want for higher education to be achieving, as far as better aligning with the economy and supporting economic growth in Kansas.”

Naccarato pointed to a direct, local benefit being able to provide qualified workers to Watco Companies in Pittsburg. Watco is the largest privately owned short-line railroad company in the U.S., according to the company’s website.

The automotive department currently offers programs for automotive and diesel heavy equipment.

“We have placement rates that are at or near 100 percent in those programs,” Naccarato said. “That’s great, but one of the things that means is that we could producing more and those students would be getting jobs as well.”

The addition of enhanced logistics, alternative fuels and railroads would allow the school of transportation to expand from 250 students to 450.

“It would grow us to be the biggest transportation (school) in the whole country, probably the whole world,” said Bob Frisbee, chair of automotive technology department.

Frisbee said Southern Illinois University and Ferris State in Michigan are the other “big players.”

— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at mstavola@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.