LAST SQUALL – Skaters head to Swan Lake during a snow squall Saturday night --  the last day of skating before temperatures warmed up to above freezing. Birch Equipment Rentals donated the use of a high intensity light during the recent cold snap to aid evening skaters. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

School Board Tours New Vo-Tech Building

Sentinel Staff Writer
    School Board members got a look at Sitka High’s expanding vo-tech facilities Tuesday night during a work session dedicated to Sitka’s career and technical education classes.

Mike Vieira. Sitka High shop teacher, shows off an intricately carved wooden box in his shop class this afternoon. The box was made using the  computer-controlled router at left.   (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

    The session started with a tour of the new building, which is still under construction behind the Sitka High gym. SHS metals teacher Tim Pike walked board members and district administrators around the new facility.
    “It’s one thing to stand here but to actually get the real impression you have to actually walk out there and see the thing, because it is a lot bigger than it was,” Pike said.
     The new building, funded by a $2.9 million legislative appropriation, covers 10,000 square feet, has 24-foot- high ceilings, and space enough for building a boat. Pike said his auto shop could host nearly three times as many cars under the roof as at present.
    “At this point in time I can probably cram eight cars in there at a time. By the time this is done I expect I could get 22 cars in there,” Pike said.
    Pike told board members Lon Garrison and Cass Pook that the covered area will allow for students to work indoors on larger construction projects, leaving more time for class and less time battling the elements.
    “Every hour they spend chipping ice is an hour spent not learning,” Pike said.
    General contractor Chris Balovich, who got his start in the Sitka High shop program, is now in charge of the expansion project. He said they’re hoping to finish by the end of December or January. When completed, the building should blend right in with the rest of the school, he said.
    “Just more modern, more up to date but when it’s done it’ll blend in exactly. Almost a perfect match,” he said.
    When the tour moved inside, Sitka High woods teacher Mike Vieira showed off the latest hardware addition to the lab: a Shopbot CNC digital fabrication machine.
    The computer numerical control machine can manufacture just about anything a student can design on a computer.
    “This is neat because it has X (axis), Y and Z so it can carve in three dimensions,” Vieira said.
    The shop got two of the machines, valued at about $18,000 for both machines, through  the work of former Sitka High teacher Randy Hughey, who got them donated by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Vieira said. The equipment is so new that Vieira took a five-day training course on them over the summer.
    “Tell them what happened when you used it the first time,” Pike said.
    “I broke a half-inch, shanked router bit made out of carbon steel because I did it wrong. And I did it twice,” Vieira said.
    In the long run, Vieira explained, students learning how to operate these machines may help fill a manufacturing void in Alaska. As an example, Vieira said a fisherman in Dutch Harbor could build replacement parts on one of the machines for a boat that’s no longer manufactured. The key part is knowing how to design projects for the computer to build, which happens across the hall from the wood shop at Sitka High.
    There, in the design lab, students build projects on computer-aided design software and Vieira said students can learn to build just about anything. As an example, he pointed to Harry Hartzog who “pretty much has the skills to model everything there is in three dimensions right now as a 15- 16-year old sophomore in high school.”
    Hartzog told the board about a project he’d been working on with School Board member Tim Fulton. Hartzog said Fulton, who works for Alaska Airlines, told him baggage handlers needed a way to keep cargo from sliding around inside the plane. Normally, workers build a bookend-style device out of plywood and 2X4s. Fulton asked Hartzog to design a similar-type stopper that could fold up and be moved easily.
    “All design and fab jobs here can be done by drawing lines and extending them. It’s as simple as that,” Hartzog said, while showing the board the design which took him “maybe three hours” to complete. Fulton has since sent the design off to the Alaska Airlines headquarters to be considered.         Vieira said Sitka High’s shop resources are valuable in helping kids like Hartzog grow.
    “He was a kid who walked in here freshman year and after a few weeks I knew this was a kid I was going to have to work to keep busy ... he was going to blow past the lesson plan pretty quickly,” Vieira said.
    Pike and Vieira see the west wing of the building as one big facility for students interested in the career and technical fields. Vieira said students start by designing the projects in the design lab – a process which Pike describes as “playing with electrons” – before moving into the shops to construct their projects.
    “The excitement with kids happens in the fabrication, and the education happens with the design,” Vieira said.
    Garrison said he’s proud of the career and technical education opportunities at Sitka High, and it would be important for the board to continue to support them despite slimming budgets.
    “That’s going to be a really tough balancing act to keep that alive,” Garrison said.
    Pike said the Sitka High shops program has become an important part of educating kids in Sitka.    
    “There’s a lot of reasons that keep kids in school and this is a strong one,” Pike said.

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