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Wrenshall School proposes Building Trades Academy

When a $12.5 million bond referendum failed in April 2017, the Wrenshall School Board and District Facility Committee collaborated to identify what is most important to meet the needs of current and future students.

The current proposed $13 million referendum focuses on repurposing or updating the majority of the targeted projects in the school. The only new construction will be an addition of a game gym onto the current gym. A game gym is used for high school events such as basketball and volleyball.

One of the items on the school referendum set for Nov. 6 is repurposing of the 20-year-old rec building.

The building was previously utilized as a second gym, but is not currently in use.

If the current referendum passes, the aging rec building will be brought up to code.

"After review of the existing Tech Ed space, it was determined that the space was not sized appropriately to teach 21st century learning," said Katie Hildenbrand, certified interior designer for the architectural firm ARI. "The exterior envelope of the space was deteriorated and the mechanical and electrical requirements did not meet today's codes. This led the facility committee to look at repurposing the existing rec building to house the Tech Ed department.

"The remodel of the rec building will include bringing the building envelope up to meet today's codes and supplying a mechanical and electrical system to meet the needs of the district's educational goals," she said.

Once the rec building has been updated, the Tech Ed department would be relocated to the building.

After that project is done, a new opportunity will be available to Wrenshall students.

The Building Trades Academy proposal would be a pilot program. The academy would offer students pre-apprenticeship classes. When they finish the courses, they would be prepared to enter apprenticeship programs.

Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro is excited about the idea and opportunity it could offer to students.

"This would be the first of its kind in the area," Belcastro said.

She credits Rep. Mike Sundeen with helping connect them with the idea for the academy.

Belcastro has been discussing options with various trades organizations and statewide trade institutes. The academy would include a variety of training for trades like welding, electrical, steamfitter and ironworking.

"This is a great idea because it offers students other options than just attending college after graduation," Carpenters Union 361 business representative Adam Johnson said.

He explained that many youth do not know much about the trades, and he supports Wrenshall School in the endeavor. He said construction workers are in high demand for building houses, schools, bridges and other projects.

The basic concept for Wrenshall's academy is based on the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest in Little Canada, Minn.

Belcastro has also been communicating with International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Duluth Building and Trades Council, and the Carpenters Union 361 in Hermantown.

"The plan is to bring support in and to work with local and statewide training facilities and career and technical colleges," Belcastro said.

"In our area in the next 10 years, a lot of trades members will be retiring," Johnson said. "I think Wrenshall is moving in the right direction."

Belcastro is optimistic this referendum will fare better than the previous proposal.

"There has been a significant amount of cooperation with the community," Belcastro said.

The final public meeting before the referendum goes to vote is 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in the Wrenshall School commons area. Information will also be available about the Building Trades Academy and questions will be answered.

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