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FHS looks at vocational facility

FAIRMONT — On Tuesday evening, a public meeting regarding the Fairmont Area School District’s proposed vocational expansion project was held in the high school’s Performing Arts Center.

The purpose of the meeting was to identify the needs for the facility and the programming that will go into it, inform the public of the vision and provide the public with information needed to make an educated vote on the $6.73 million bond referendum on Feb. 9.

The meeting was led by Jake Tietje, principal of program development for the Fairmont district. Just a handful of people attended Tuesday evening’s meeting, but it was also streamed online by Gemini Studios.

Tietje spoke briefly of the five academies at Fairmont High School: automotive, welding, agriculture, culinary, and construction trades.

“The vision for our vocational programming is to teach our students the skills they need to gain successful employment with our local industry. We believe in the “grow our own” concept, that we can have students here at Fairmont introduced at a young age to the areas they’re interested in and that we can provide a sequence of classes they can take in high school and by the end of their high school years, they can enter the workforce or go on to more schooling,” Tietje said.

He went on to say that the “grow our own” idea is planted in the hopes that students will come back to work in this area following high school and/or college graduation.

Tietje shared some challenges the district and community are facing. This includes additional space needed to increase learning opportunities in the school district. The local industry is also in dire need of skilled employees with vocational training.

“I’ve had the opportunity over the course of the last month to go out and speak to 52 businesses in the area and the most common response was that they’ve had postings but haven’t been able to find quality workers. The need for those quality employees in the area is high,” Tietje said.

He shared that Minnesota needs to replace 239,000 skilled labor workers throughout every industry. Tietje said this is a current statistic and not five years down the line.

Solutions to the challenges include providing space and educating students on opportunities they have within the Fairmont area and preparing students to fill good-paying jobs that are available with Fairmont area employees.

The 13,200 sq. ft. building would be on the south of the south wing of the high school building. It will include a mechanical lab, construction and manufacturing lab, programming lab, HVAC lab, expanded auto shop, expanded woodshop and school vehicle storage.

The programming lab will be new to the district and will include 3D printers, wood/metal/glass engravers and computer numerical control (CNC) equipment, which will allow students to design and program equipment to perform tasks at local industry standards.

Tietje said the expansion of both the existing woodshop and auto shop is to provide additional space.

The woodshop class is currently making an icehouse, but they lack the space to store what’s needed. Tietje said storage space for saws, drills and sanders has proven to be a problem, especially with 20 students working in the same area.

“We have a really nice facility and the actual shop space is very adequate. The problem with that space is similar to the woodshop, we don’t have space to store our projects,” Tietje explained.

The HVAC lab would also be a new program to Fairmont and Tietje said they are particularly excited about it.

Tietje said about a year ago, he and superintendent Joe Brown and co-principal Alex Schmidt had a conversation with someone from Johnson Controls.

“They shared with us an exciting program that they had an interest in bringing to Fairmont High School. This program provides an opportunity for students to take four classes. After the block classes, students would graduate with an HVAC certification,” Tietje said.

The construction and manufacturing lab will actually provide students the space to build residential homes, garages, fish houses and more.

“We have a partnership with Habitat for Humanity for two years. Habitat has gone out and reserved funds to be able to provide all of the materials for us to build a house for the next two years. The primary focus for this space would be to build Habitat for Humanity homes,” Tietje said.

Tietje said the entire facility looks like an airplane hangar because it needs to be large enough to get a house in and out of the building.

The expanded vocational center would also allow space for school vehicle storage. Four of the school’s vehicles are currently stored in the maintenance shop near the Aquatic Park. A four-stall garage will be able to house the four vehicles used to transport students to activities.

Tietje said every student in grades 7 and 8 at Fairmont High School will use the new vocational center and all students grades 9-12 will have the opportunity to use it through elective courses. Neighboring school districts that partner with Fairmont will also be given the opportunity. There will also be educational opportunities for adults in the evening and on Saturdays.

Shifting focus, Tietje talked about the tax impact the bond referendum will have. He spoke about the taxable market value, which deals with the assessed value of a home.

A $75,000 home would have an annual tax impact of $7, whereas a $125,000 home would have an annual tax impact of $15 per year.

“This will be a 17-year bond so with a $125,000 house, $15 over the course of the 17 years ends up being $255 total tax impact over the course of 17 years,” Tietje explained.

Tietje also noted that the $6.73 million bond referendum goes into the construction of the facility and also the FF & E, the furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Following a successful election, the pre-construction process will begin. Bids would go out in the spring and constriction would begin this summer. Occupancy would be projected for the summer of 2022.

One more public meeting will take place on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m in the Performing Arts Center.

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