Local career center wins grant, plans study cafe

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It’s hard to picture right now, but the medium-sized networking classroom at Western Area Career and Technology Center in Chartiers Township will soon undergo a pretty dramatic transformation.


The wires, network racks and computers occupying the space will be stripped from their current locations and replaced with cabinets, food displays and refrigeration systems. WACTC Director Dennis McCarthy said the room is set to become a study cafe.


“We wanted a place where students could go and study,” McCarthy said. “Plus, there really isn’t anywhere around here where students can go and grab a bite to eat. We are really excited about this. We’ve been talking about doing this for some time.”


But with costs, it was almost out of reach, until mechatronics instructor Tim Angert learned of a life-improvement challenge sponsored by IKEA in Robinson Township.


“I serve on the board of trustees for the Washington County Manufacturers Association with Jennifer Stockdale (a local marketing specialist with IKEA of Pittsburgh),” Angert said. “She told me about it, and I filled out the grant paperwork.”


In its fourth year, the IKEA Life Improvement Challenge offers the top winner from each store across the country a complete makeover, including products and design experience. Stockdale said employees and community members could vote for their favorite nonprofit organization during a 10-day period in March. After learning of the school’s plan to build a study cafe, Stockdale said she thought WACTC would be the perfect recipient of the $8,500 grant.


Stockdale said each store is provided $10,000 to give away yearly. The rest of the money was divided between the second-place winner, Bike Pittsburgh, and the third-place winner, Try-Again Homes of Washington.


Stockdale said the Robinson location will be working closely with McCarthy over the next several months to design and furnish the space.


McCarthy hopes to have the study cafe completed by the start of fall classes. However, several classrooms need to be rearranged and moved before the redesign can start.


“The networking classes will have to move into another, bigger classroom where mechatronics is. Mechatronics will be moved to the welding room, and the welding program needs to move to their new location in the parking lot.”


McCarthy said the welding building is under construction and must be completed before the other classes can be moved.


“It’s all about timing,” McCarthy said.


McCarthy said the cafe will be managed by the entrepreneurship students. Food from the culinary program will be sold in the cafe, as will school-themed clothing and school supplies.


He’s thankful for all of the support.


“We didn’t think we would win. We were very surprised,” he said. “But we are very excited.”


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