Belmont-Harrison Career Center gets renovated

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Carpentry student Matthew Garrett, a junior of Flushing, said renovations to the Belmont-Harrison Career Center have been welcome, and students are adjusting to face mask and sanitary requirements. His father is the instructor for the auto shop.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont-Harrison Career Center locations in St. Clairsville and Cadiz are completing a five-year program of upgrades and expansions.

“We’ve just completed a huge capital project at both campuses,” Superintendent Richard Schoene said, adding the changes are both aesthetic and operational.

He pointed out the latest extensive push of work during the summer. This included complete new student restroom areas and work on labs for heavy trade classes.

“We renovated all the restrooms and locker rooms in all those. Before, they had one locker room in each lab; we now have a male and female locker room in each lab,” Schoene said.

Other improvements include painting the high bay ceilings for a brighter atmosphere and laying new carpeting in the academic classrooms.

“We’re pretty close to getting all the capital stuff done,” he said. “We just finished the installation at both locations … of new electronic message boards outside the schools along the road.”

“That was all this summer,” he said. “Over the past five years, we also did all new windows and doors, repaved all of our parking lots.”

“We wanted them to have someplace they could have some pride in,” Principal Ryan Caldwell said. “Our kids are having a wonderful experience here and they love the new upgrades.”

The lab area parking lots have also been fenced, and security gates installed.

“We’ve upgraded our security camera system and also have electronic door locks at (both) locations now. A year ago, we put in air conditioning at the Harrison Career Center and they never had air conditioning before,” he said.

“They’re excited to come back full speed,” Margie Kunze, construction trades teacher said of the students. “They’d rather be here, working. Our students do a great job when they’re at school with us.”

She added the new fencing has been particularly welcome.

“We have it very secure now for our students and our staff,” she said.

Schoene added these improvements are in addition to sanitary precautions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(The students are) adapting well. They’re wearing their masks and doing the social distancing. We’re at 100 percent (attendance) at both campuses, however we’re down in enrollment. Students who chose to do 100 percent remote (learning) are not here this year, because we can’t do that with our hands-on training, so we’re down about 25 percent of enrollment total, and that’s real indicative of their home schools and how many of their kids are total remote.”

“Kids are doing a wonderful job wearing the masks. They’re making the best out of a bad situation,” Caldwell said.

There are 260 students at the Belmont County site and 80 at Harrison County location.

“We also have nine programs that we call satellite programming at our home schools. We have five programs of ours at St. Clairsville, and we have two each at Shadyside and Barnesville,” he said. “Not only are we doing high school programming, we’re doing middle school programming for those districts.”

Schoene said the total cost of the work has been more than $2 million.

“Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is for a little school district with smaller buildings. This summer alone we put in over $1 million,” he said. “We typically do between $300,000 and $400,000 in the last couple years in improvements each summer.

“Based on some tax increases we’ve received, the board has moved money into our capital improvement funds, so all these improvements were done at no additional tax increases to the property owners. This is all being done without additional levy money, which is really big for us,” Schoene said.

“In order to do it right, we would have had to get a levy, but fortunately in the last five years with oil and gas, we’ve gotten some bumps in our revenue, so we’ve dedicated those bumps to capital improvements in the district,” he said.

School officials review courses annually to ensure they are vital and necessary to moving forward and are in line with the demands of the economy. They also seek information from students regarding their interests.

“There’s a couple new programs on the shelf that we’d like to get started, but obviously COVID, number one, is hampering that because of no funding and less students, and secondly a lot hinges on the oil and gas industry moving forward,” he said, adding much will depend on whether a proposed ethane cracker plant comes to the Dillies Bottom area along Ohio 7.

“There’s a couple programs we’d like to initiate and get started up that would be beneficial if the PTT plant comes on, or fracking or the under-industries around come into the Ohio Valley.”

“We’re going to continue to look at making changes that will benefit students in Belmont and Harrison County from an academic standpoint, from a career tech standpoint, and obviously anything we can do within our means from a facility standpoint with programs, we’re going to do that. We’re always looking to better ourselves for the community.”


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