WACTC students finishing new welding center

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Working in two teams, nine teenage students were measuring drywall, cutting it, preparing it for the frame of a structure that didn’t exist a few months earlier.


Under the direction of carpentry instructor Greg Neish, the boys were purposefully laboring at two tables until each piece was sliced into an appropriate size. A couple of them then would carry a block of drywall to the frame wall and affix it deftly over the pink insulation, a process that was repeated again and again.


When finished, the welding building at Western Area Career and Technology Center will include a classroom. But for now, it is serving as one.


Students in five programs at the Chartiers Township school are completing the work Nello Construction started. Nello, of Houston, has virtually finished the frame of the 11,500-square-foot facility – some details have to be fine-tuned and wrapped up.


The teens are doing the interior work and some outside. They started last Monday and are striving to finish by April 14.


“The thing I like is it is being built by our students,” said Dr. Dennis McCarthy, director of WACTC. “We wanted them to get hands-on experience and take pride in their work.”


“The nice thing is this is a learning tool,” said Neish, a Canonsburg resident in his 10th year at the school. “We don’t scold if they do something wrong. We tell them to keep doing what they’re doing. That’s how they learn.”


They have a lot to learn because they are young – grades 9 through 12, male and female, all splitting class time between WACTC and their home district.


But they are learning well. The building, inside and out, is neat despite the ongoing labor. And the work is transpiring quickly; groundbreaking was only June 25,


Students in the masonry program are responsible for outside brick; electrical for connections; HVAC for exhaust; carpentry for erecting walls for the classroom, offices and 36 welding booths; and welding, of course, for welding the booths.


There is a demand for welders throughout the region, and it is growing. They are needed in the natural gas and manufacturing industries and by other entities, and the pay can be good to excellent.


More younger people are recognizing these attributes and applying to welding programs offered at schools or through trade union schools. That begot another demand: a larger space for WACTC welding, which will be fulfilled by the facility being completed behind the main classroom complex, off Route 519.


“We are getting a lot of calls from everyone for welders – manufacturing, Marcellus Shale, PennDOT,” said McCarthy, who succeeded Dr. Joe Iannetti as director July 1.


The welding building cost $1.5 million, $1 million coming from the school and $500,000 from the Washington County Local Share Account, which is funded by gaming revenue from the Meadows Racetrack & Casino.


It will be a fireproof facility with welding booths that go 5 feet by 5 feet; a 12-by-13-foot room for computers and security cameras; and a 24-by-28-foot classroom with 12 windows.


McCarthy said the school has purchased 36 welding booths, which will serve up to 36 students each in the morning and afternoon sessions. Roger Simmons is the instructor and Bill Hodgkiss the classroom aide.


The director, however, said the goal is to secure funding for 14 more booths. Fifty students would require hiring a second teacher.


Western Area serves students from nine county districts and, according to McCarthy, has a representative mix of males and females. It, of course, has classes for adults too.


More students of all ages are considering welding, a diminishing profession not so long ago but one that is heating up. But whatever their pursuits, their ambitions in a still sluggish economy, McCarthy appreciates the initiative so many of them display.


“They know if there is a job out there, they will go for it.”


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