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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

East Valley High School students help design renovated wood and metal shops for learning in the trades

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

East Valley High School is in the middle of revamping their wood and metal shops to include updated machines and new opportunities for learning.

The changes are happening in partnership with Wagstaff Inc., a local manufacturing company. The district and Wagstaff have already partnered over the past four years to host a summer academy to expose students to jobs in the manufacturing industry{%%note} {/%%note}.

“This is all about expanding workforce development in our area,” said Doug Edmonson, the district’s career and technical education director. “The whole thing is to produce and manufacture products.”

The high school was hampered by cluttered metal and wood shops filled with big, heavy machines that were decades old.

“You could barely walk through here,” Edmonson said as he stood in the shop recently. “There was no space to fabricate.”

The school applied for a grant from the Washington Department of Commerce and received $200,000.

Edmonson said he knew if he hired contractors, the money would be spent quickly. Instead, he hired a dozen high school students to do the work, paying them $24.50 an hour to redesign the shop and make whatever was needed, including shelving for vertical storage . That left more of the grant money available to purchase new equipment.

One new piece of equipment is a horizontal band saw. “We had one that was 30 years old,” Edmonson said. “It worked, but it was so slow.”

An old forge was ripped out, and a new eight station welding bay was put in. Ocarc, a local company that sells welding and industrial supplies, has donated welding equipment for each bay. Six large, rolling tool chests are filled with tools, and new tables were purchased. There are also new tables in two classrooms just off the shop for engineering classes.

The classrooms, which will each have $60,000 worth of audio/visual equipment installed this summer, will also be available for public use. Edmonson said many local manufacturing companies need space to have training classes for their employees. “This can be that space,” he said.

The fact that East Valley High School even has a wood and metal shop makes it unusual, Edmonson said. Almost all schools ripped out their shops 10 to 15 years ago as the focus shifted to college readiness instead of manufacturing careers. Edmonson said that while a couple schools kept their wood shops, almost no one in the area has a metal shop.

“The pendulum shifted, all toward college,” he said. “Now the pendulum is shifting back because industry is hurting.”

Edmonson is East Valley’s first full-time CTE director and he said one of the first things he did was reach out to local manufacturing companies to see how they could help each other. As the former CTE director in the Mead School District, Edmonson knew about the employee shortages manufacturers have been seeing in recent years.

“As a business, we recognize the shortage we have with the workforce,” said Wagstaff Inc. director of workforce development Wade Larson. “It’s been coming.”

Businesses knew years ago that the increased focus on students going to college was going to pull from the manufacturing industry, he said, coupled with a societal trend away from hands-on work. “People don’t make stuff anymore,” Larson said.

Larson said he’s glad to see the East Valley district increase its focus on manufacturing. “They’re willing to do what it takes,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of money, but they have attitude.”

His company was pleased to send employees to the school to teach the dozen students from all over the county what they needed to know to redo the shop, Larson said. “Kids will rise to the expectations that you set,” he said.

He sees the partnership with East Valley’s new shop as an extension of the partnership with the summer academy, which is growing. Last year a session was added in Newport and this year sessions were offered in Riverside and Cheney. There are plans to expand to two more locations next year.

Larson said he believes the partnership with East Valley, including the summer programs, will help his company. One former summer academy participant now works for Wagstaff as a welder. Another works for a local manufacturer as a machinist. Several more have gone to college to study engineering.

Edmonson said he has plans to continue growing the focus on trade careers in the district’s schools.

“The goal is, how can we get kids excited about this industry,” he said.