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NWI Times: Lowell High School adds advanced tech classes at a new state-of-the-art building

February 3, 2018

Zak Manno never thought Lowell High School would offer welding, but now that it will next year, the 17-year-old sophomore couldn’t be more excited.

“It’s very smart,” Manno said of the district’s decision to provide instruction in more applied arts. Starting next school year, it will add welding and advanced manufacturing to its existing auto technology program in a new state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing technology building.

“It gives you a head start. You learn, get certification and get a job,” he said. “I’m real excited.”

“Everything is geared here to certification,” LHS Assistant Principal David Wilson said of the 12,000-square-foot facility on the east end of the high school campus at 2051 E. Commercial Ave.

Already dubbed the Red Devils Trades building, it houses 16 welding stalls with the latest ventilation system; six garage doors for six bays with five hoists for the school’s expanded auto technology program; and two machines from Haas Automation, a computer numerical control machine tool manufacturer.

The Gene Haas Foundation already has said it will pay for the certification of each advanced manufacturing student, Wilson said.

Wilson said the building also has two classrooms — one clean and one dirty. This way, he said, students can go directly from the manufacturing floor to the (dirty) classroom to pull out a blueprint, for example, without wasting time for cleanup.

The building is topped with solar panels, has a mezzanine for storage and no ceilings for open mechanicals so students can readily see the building’s infrastructure. Duct work and other items are color-coded using the same colors as in industry. There are two bathrooms equipped with showers, one for each gender.

Seventeen-year-old auto tech student Claire Mitsch said the dual bathrooms were a nice surprise. “There are few girls in auto tech right now. This helps us feel more welcome,” she said.

With career plans in physical therapy, the three-sport athlete said she plans to continue to the next level in auto tech and take welding as well, for the life skills she will gain.

“I want to be independent and do things for myself. I already tried welding, and I’m really excited. It’s kind of like painting; you have to trust your hand,” she said.

Six years in the making

Wilson, LHS Principal Lori Pavell and automotive technology teacher Leon Simon were the Tri-Creek School Board’s scouting team that visited colleges and other schools to see how existing trades facilities were laid out and what equipment was used. Lowell had the advantage of hearing how others would make changes if they could now that their facilities are operating.

“We took away the best,” Wilson said.

Retiring Superintendent Debra Howe had been doing much of the same with applied manufacturing arts in Rochester, Indiana, and the Tri-Creek School Board wanted the same for its students.

“A number of years ago, you could see where everything was headed,” Howe said. When Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed her to the Regional Works Council, she heard industry representatives talk of the great need for workers with highly developed, specific skill sets in Northwest Indiana.

“This is a skilled trades area. Those in applied arts tend to stay in town. They tend to be the foundational parts of a community,” she said.

 The School Board considered converting spaces and buildings such as the former bus garage owned by the school corporation before deciding on new construction, a decision well-received in the community.

The new building, which cost $5.6 million, is part of the second phase of a two-phase $14 million bond issue covering the high school and three elementary schools.

Board President Michelle Dumbsky said she is thrilled with and proud of the end result. She said Derek Anderson, of Skillman Corp., the firm managing the RDT Building project, told the board, “This is very unique compared to other school corporations. You’re not going to see this anywhere else in Northwest Indiana.”

He said the building will be fully equipped by March.

‘Teaching the process’

Howe said career centers do have such facilities, but not high schools. “We want all of our students to have this opportunity,” she said.

Howe said there is no reason why academics and applied arts pathways shouldn’t converge. It should not be an either-or decision for students, she said. They all can benefit from working together as a team, solving problems and thinking critically in such classes, she said.

Wilson, the assistant principal, said he hopes to have the facility and faculty ready to offer a summer exposure program for students considering an applied arts course. He pointed out that currently all LHS students have at least one Career Technical Education class.

A 1975 graduate of Lowell High School, Wilson remembers the mini-courses in each vocational area offered to him as a freshman. That introduction to drafting led him to an interest in architecture, his first intended major before switching to law enforcement. Eventually becoming the Lowell police chief, he retired and moved into education.

“You know what they say about the jobs today’s students will have — they’ve not been created yet,” Wilson said. “We’re teaching the process. That’s the value.”

Article by: Melanie Csepiga, The Northwest Indiana Times (February 3, 2018)

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