The community got its first look at the newly-renovated Blair High School industrial arts center Tuesday during an open house event.
The project, which cost just more than $2 million, created a welding lab, with 14 stations, identical to Metropolitan Community College's lab at its South Omaha campus. Also included in the 14,000-square-foot renovation are a construction science lab, manufacturing lab, two art rooms, drafting and computer science lab and robotics and STEM lab.
“Our ultimate goal was to try to find the passion of each learner and align that passion to help them develop a skill set here in Blair that can springboard them for the future,” Supt. Randy Gilson said in a ceremony prior to tours of the facility, which were guided by students.
Gilson said the renovations were possible due to the partnerships created with Metropolitan Community College and area businesses, including Lozier, Sid Dillon and The John Day Company, which donated more than $450,000 of equipment for the students to use.
Metro has loaned BHS precision mills, lathes and equipped the welding bays. The college is also providing instructors to teach college welding and college dual credit courses in manufacturing at no cost to the district.
Gilson said Metro president Randy Schmailzl was key to the partnership.
“This is a great day for Blair and the community … This opportunity of discovery and being able to take college classes is a difference maker,” Schmailzl said.
Ralph Kleinsmith, a talent sourcing and development manager for Lozier, said jobs that only 20 to 30 years ago were undesirable are now desirable, which is important to industries like Lozier.
“Skill trades are in high demand and are so desperately needed in our community and throughout our country as a whole,” he said.
Eileen Korth of Jackson, Jackson and Associates served as architect on the project. She credited the BCS administration and teachers Chris Schuler, Ed Mills and Kari Schueth for their collaboration of shared goals for the betterment of students.
“This was really about students. What can we do to make this space better serve our students,” she said. “It's their passion, it's their expertise, it's their love for their students that you're going to see when you tour the facility.”
BCS Director of Operations Tom Anderson credited Gilson with building the partnerships necessary to make the project a success.
“This is so exciting for our kids,” he said. “This is probably one of the first times I've seen something come to fruition due to the fact that Dr. Gilson had a dream of it and the school board approved it and got the community behind us. I just want to thank all of you.”
The new facility is not just for students who may attend a two-year college program after high school, Anderson said. But rather for all students to test to see if they might like a career in welding, construction or manufacturing.
“Very few schools have that opportunity. I would tell you that metro schools probably say that they provide those programs, but they have to travel to those specific schools to get to that program,” he said. “At Blair, we're ready to offer right here, they can test it. If we want to expand on it, we can expand on it and we're going to grow from it.
“The old saying 'If you build it, they will come. So true,” Anderson added.
There are 182 students who have registered for welding, 108 registered for automotive/small engines, 106 in introduction to technology/programming and web design, 77 in robotics, 27 for manufacturing and 257 for construction.
There are 192 registered for art classes.
District 16 Sen. Ben Hansen congratulated Gilson, the school board and the community on the completion of the facility.
“The vocational trade programs that will be taught here will benefit the Nebraska economy as foundations are laid and leaders of the next generation learn to be electricians, welders, mechanics, carpenters, architects, construction workers and more,” he said.
Following the open house, the district held a live auction to sell old equipment. The sale raised $9,203, which will go back into the industrial arts program.
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