- Associated Press - Sunday, October 5, 2014

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - Is it a coincidence that the contracting team completing the new 8,500-square-foot career and technical education wing at Sitka High spent a lot of time in the school’s vocational education classrooms as students?

Randy Hughey, the co-project manager and former construction trades teacher, doesn’t think so.

“There is a correlation between liking being in these shops, and the careers they end up in,” he said. “Some kids go from high school shops into employment … Besides getting practical skills for life, whether it’s welding or small engines, they’re trying things on. If they like making things it won’t matter so much the materials they make things with.”

The $2.9 million project was funded with an appropriation from the Legislature through the Alaska Department of Commerce. Hughey, who retired in 2013, is managing the project with Matt Christner.

Hughey gave credit to Sen. Bert Stedman as well as the Sitka School Board for a project providing space for eight cars instead of four, enough welding space to build a boat, and a wood construction area large enough to allow a small house to be built and then taken out through the doors.

“Bert Stedman spent a lot of time with Mr. (Steve) Vieira in the auto and metal shops,” Hughey said. “He understood what these shops can do for kids and made that happen, and we’re thankful to him, as well as to the school board.”

The board also gave the new shops a high priority as a capital improvement.

The new wing is located next to the current wood shop, and can be seen from the high school’s back parking lot. Still left to be completed are enclosing the three classroom and work spaces with 24-foot high ceilings, pouring concrete floors, finishing the roof and installing equipment.

While the shops provide job training for those interested in those fields, Hughey said, the shops help answer some bigger questions about the careers students choose.

“Do they like hands-on things? Do they like practical problem-solving things?” he said. “It’s that career exploration.”

As examples, Hughey said four of the contractors on the project - electricians Jeff Helem and Doug Helem, general contractor Chris Balovich and heating system contractor Gary Smith - all went from the Sitka High shops into further training for technical careers. Structural engineer Ryan Wilson, a 1991 SHS graduate, told the Sentinel he still uses the skills he learned from his small engines, wood shop, engine overhaul and welding classes.

“Absolutely,” said Wilson this week. “It was good having the hands-on. That way, when you’re in an office drawing pictures you can understand what the construction workers are going through.”

Hughey said the vocational education program draws in the academic kids as well as the kids who may not excel to the same extent in other coursework.

“This is a place where some people can shine, who maybe are not the same kids who shine in core academic courses,” he said.

He also cited the sense of accomplishment that all students receive when they complete a hands-on project over the long term. That will be enhanced with the larger projects that can be undertaken in the new wing.

“It’s much more rewarding than something that takes two class sessions and it’s done,” Hughey said. “To experience the sense of satisfaction that people have who have elected in their careers to build things. That sense of accomplishment is really, really important.”

The new wing will add four car lifts to the current four and make it possible to work year-round on larger wood and home construction projects. The welding shop will have space enough for big projects, like building an aluminum skiff.

“It’s in order to serve more kids in terms of metal, and automotive, with more room to work,” Hughey said. “With construction we’ve typically offered carpentry courses in the spring, when the weather gets better and better, as you work toward a roof. In the fall, the weather gets worse and worse. This makes it so we can offer year-round courses (in building construction). We can build a structure for a small building or a house in the fall.”

Mike Vieira, who replaced Hughey at the high school - and is the son of a longtime SHS metals and engines instructor - said he’s looking forward to expanding the wood construction courses, one of his areas of enthusiasm.

“I’m excited to be able to expand that program in the first semester,” said Vieira. He said he will probably continue to lead classes for small buildings for a while, but within a year or two “get to the point to do a full residence, whether it’s a tiny house or an accessory dwelling unit. The floathouses at ANB Harbor - that would be a perfect project.”

Vieira said the main goal of the courses is not necessarily to train the kids for a career. “Eighty to 90 percent are not going to become carpenters,” he said. “It’s to expose them to as many trades as possible.”

School officials say the vo-tech shops project is ahead of schedule and within budget, and will be completed as early as January, well ahead of schedule. The only snag the team ran into was some contaminated soil that had to be removed for about $30,000.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Hughey said, noting that the contamination was likely from a time when engines were cleaned and pressure washed on the site, which was then a parking lot. “For this size of a project, it wasn’t too bad.”

Hughey said he has been pleased to be part of the project.

“To me it feels very, very satisfying because we tried to get funding to do this for eight years,” he said. “We’ve been talking about such a facility space for a lot longer than this. It feels very rewarding. I retired while we were just starting it, so I feel like I’m leaving this place better than I found it.”


Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, https://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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