Opinion: Mount Abe building project excludes ‘hands-on’ space

First and foremost I am writing this representing myself only. If what I am saying rings true with anyone else then it will serve as a reminder that you are not alone in your thoughts.
Second, I would like to acknowledge and thank all the folks on the building advisory committee for their long hours and hard work. My remarks are in no way meant to downplay your findings, only to express my opinion.
One last bit of information, a bit about me. I grew up in Lincoln, and have lived here all my life — so far, except for a stint in the U.S. Army. I worked throughout Addison County in the power equipment industry as well as in manufacturing. I received a bachelor’s degree in Occupational and Extension Education from UVM (now Design & Technology Education).
I continued to work in these areas until a job opened up at Mount Abe, the school I graduated from, and now would become a teacher within its halls. I taught Design & Technology Education at Mount Abe for seven years, until it was necessary to retire due to health issues. So, I know something about Mount Abe, enough so hopefully you will at least hear what I have to say.
This November, people in the five towns will be presented with a bond vote. Don’t be misled. You will be voting on whether or not to allocate up to $32.6 million for a major school renovation. This renovation will be funded with no state aid. The conceptual drawing is not a design, only a concept. You are not voting on the design of the school, but are presented the concept as an idea of what the design could look like.
At a school board meeting Sept. 16th, which I attended recently, and at which the board voted to present a bond vote to the voting community, information was presented that causes me concern. A conceptual drawing was presented and explained as a concept that includes adequate space to change things around and to include everything that is wanted by members of the five-town community.
While I did take the survey that was offered, I don’t recall any mention of the shops, would I want to keep them or would it bother me if they went away? I did state on the survey that these were important. I want Design and Technology Education shops to be included in this plan and none are shown. All that is shown is enough space to do all the things that the bond committee considers important to the education of our students.
My understanding is that if the bond goes through, a building committee will be formed to receive input and relay information to a design group of professionals. This design would then become a working set of plans that would serve to carry out the renovation.
Would it be left up to a few individuals to make that final call of what should be included in the renovation? If the five-town community wants the shops back in, then the building committee should ensure they are included in the final design, allowing necessary changes to the use of some other spaces to accommodate a shop space. I also do not agree with the ideas of glass walls that allow students and others walking by to view other students working in, of all places, a project space. Students do not need added distractions.
While the drawing does include middle school project space, and high school project space, neither are identified as to their specific use. What does “project space” mean?
In the minutes of the Aug. 7 meeting, included in a summary offered by Superintendent David Adams, was this statement: “Increased use of Hannaford Career Center program therefore no dedicated shop spaces. Project spaces would have some light equipment for student projects.” A couple red flags go up for me.
First, “Increased use of Hannaford Career Center program therefore no dedicated shop spaces.” The cost of sending a student to PHCC is approximately $18,000 per year, half of which is picked up by the state leaving us with a hefty $9,000 per student. This is an acceptable amount for those students that wish to pursue a career in one of the fine courses offered there, but far too much to consider sending students to PHCC in lieu of utilizing the shop spaces, machinery and highly skilled professionals we currently have at Mount Abe.
And what about the student that is heading in a direction that, due to heavy coursework, would not be able to allocate a full, or even a half-day at PHCC but would like very much to take a course in drafting, learn to weld or work with wood? Removing the shop spaces would be a horrible decision.
The Design & Technology department has been offering CAD (computer-assisted design) classes, woodworking, welding and small engine mechanics for years, and in recent years CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing), CNC (computer numerical control) machining were added to the program, all of which required a better understanding of computer technology. These courses are not intended to replace those offered at PHCC, but rather to prepare students to attend there during high school, or for technical school post-secondary.
This department has been steadily moving into 21st century training while at the same time maintaining the teaching of skills that, while evolving somewhat, remain timeless — the basic tool knowledge for woodworking, metalworking and mechanics that will be used far into the future. These courses introduce students to tools and skills in a safe environment.
Second red flag: “Project spaces would have some light equipment for student projects.”
What definition of project space is used? What would this look like? What is meant my “light equipment”? Who is going to oversee these areas? Who will be allowed access? What about scheduling?
The term “maker’s space” has been thrown around a bit, but it has not been defined as to what that is. I gladly support a maker’s space as defined as a location where any student in the school, within the schedule of the student and the overseer of the space, can work on problem-solving and critical thinking by using models, designs, prototypes with multiple iterations to solve a problem, create a solution, and learn during the process. This is currently being offered in the existing shop spaces in addition to regular classes. Let’s add to the skills that the department is currently teaching, not remove it.
Obviously I am passionate about hands-on learning. Many students have shared with me that Tech Ed was their favorite because they were able to “do” something. I have had a hand-full of students tell me that they would have dropped out of school if it weren’t for shop classes. Just recently a student returned as a fifth-year senior and basically majored in shop while taking other necessary classed in order to graduate. This student did graduate, and did march with the other seniors even though they were technically a class behind his peers. He is proud of his accomplishment, as are his teachers.
OK, on to the next bit of my opinion. I am fully supportive of sporting programs but I do feel that the addition of another gym is unnecessary, given declining student numbers, but I’m sure would be utilized. I feel it is unnecessary as I think the perceived need was created due to an increase in sports offerings.
While I am not suggesting we go back to what we did have when I was a student at the school, I am saying that maybe we should be focusing those dollars more on students directly and not on infrastructure. There are some students that go on to professional sports — a very low number — and some go into sports medicine, management, coaching, etc., but again, a very low number.
I think the discipline training offered in sports is undeniably healthy and productive for all involved, and will continue without a second gymnasium. My opinion could change if the public use of the facilities were to increase to a greater extent. We’ll see.
Currently I am not supporting a bond vote for $32.6 million, and will not support any bond vote that does not include a dedicated shop(s) for a structured and supervised hands-on learning experience offered by trained professionals.
Jim Brown

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