Pictured trying out their new tools in the new high bay area in the automotive technology lab are (from background to foreground) Austin Ricketts of Allegan, Hunter Belden of Allegan and Lauren Shroll of Wayland.Pictured last Wednesday cutting the ribbon on the new additions to the tech center are (from left) Allegan Area Educational Service Agency superintendent Bill Brown; Early College students Jesse Ebsch and Alex Baker; criminal justice program students Marcasha Marvin and Bryce Eller; and AAESA board president Larry Collier. (Photo provided)

Allegan tech center cuts ribbon on new classrooms, space

Ryan Lewis, Editor

Last week, the Allegan County Area Technical and Education Center celebrated the completion of its 12,000-square-foot, $3.2 million expansion.

Crews worked through the winter after breaking ground last September, and administrators, staff, students and the public were on hand for the official ribbon-cutting Wednesday, Sept. 13.

“We’re very happy with everything,” said building principal Linda Blankenship. “I’m hearing very, very positive comments from teachers and staff. Everyone has space, there’s enough room for everyone now.”

Enrollment at the school run by the Allegan Area Education Service Agency reached 800 for the first time last year.

So, the district used money from the sale of land to the north of the tech center—where a 600,000-square-foot Perrigo Co. distribution center has been proposed—along with some of its fund balance plus nearly $1 million in bonds to pay for the project.

Three high-bay areas were added on the east side of the building, expanding three programs there.

“It really gives them an opportunity to really spread out and have a space to learn the skills they need,” Blankenship said.

The welding program got a new classroom.

Blankenship said, “When they built the building, no one thought they’d need computers in a shop area 30 years ago. And that’s definitely changed.”

Instructor Richard Currie said previously the one-year class had to sign up for classroom space wherever it happened to be available elsewhere in the school.

“It’s nice now; we have computers for all the students,” Currie said. “We’re full at 22 students in the morning and 22 in the afternoon.”

The project added two new bays with lifts for the automotive technology area.

Allegan High School student Austin Ricketts is in his second year of the program and said the added space gets more students time with the tools in their hand.

“You’re more involved,” he said. “Instead of six people all looking at the same car, it’s more like three.”

Wayland Union High School student Lauren Shroll said it was also nice to have new tools for the shop. The machining technology area got four new lathes and more lab space, allowing program to reconfigure the room to spread machines out.

“It’s been very nice, so far,” said instructor Jon Sarver. “There’s room for all the devices.”

An addition to the other end of the building especially helped the tech center’s Early College Allegan County, which is entering its third year. Through it, students at the tech center take courses offered by Lake Michigan College into a 13th year of school and graduate with both a high school diploma as well as an associate degree—all at no extra cost to students.

“We have our third year starting, so that’s our third cohort of students,” she said. “We have 29 sections of college courses in our buildings during the day. That’s a lot. We can fit everybody in our building now.”

Four new classrooms were added. One went to the criminal justice class; the other three are generally used by the Early College program (along with several others spread throughout the tech center). There are also some common areas where students can study and gather before and in between classes.

“It gives them more of a college feel,” she said. “They’re somewhat separate from the rest of the students.”

AAESA superintendent Bill Brown said the entire project had gone according to plan and turned out well.

“We’re so pleased to be able to offer this to students of our county,” Brown said. “And the budget came in phenomenally.

He confirmed AAESA would not have to raise taxes to pay off the debt for the project. The district borrowed funds at less than 3 percent interest rate and expects to repay the debt in seven to 10 years.

“From the project’s design to the details we’re still adding, such as shades for the new classrooms, we could not be more pleased,” he said.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.


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