(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
The new Center for Applied Science and Technology welding and machine shop on U.S. Highway 6-34 in McCook opened Wednesday morning behind a red ribbon snipped by representatives of Mid-Plains Community College Area/McCook Community College, the Nebraska Department of Corrections/Work Ethic Camp, Nebraska Work Force Development, McCook Public Schools, Valmont Industries and Phoenix Transitional Services.
The six partners saw their cooperation in the CAST facility as an opportunity to teach the welding and machine shop skills that high school and college students will need to enter those industries after graduation and the vocational training and job skills that WEC offenders and inmates will need upon their re-entry into society.
Dr. Michael Chipps, president of MPCC, called the CAST facility "an unprecedented opportunity" to initiate a partnership in learning and employment. He called it "providence" ... "all the moons aligned just right" ... that the six came together to form this partnership.
"For six years," Dr. Chipps said, "I've had this dream of delivering heavy technology courses and programs to this area." With the help of Barb Lewien of the Work Ethic Camp, Work Force Development, Valmont and MPS, his dream has become a reality, he said.
In the mornings, starting later this month, MPS students will study and train in the new classrooms; in the afternoons, WEC offenders and inmates -- who will be called "learners" at CAST -- will attend class and earn appropriate certification for employment.
Barb Lewien, warden of the WEC in McCook, said that 85 percent of offenders in Nebraska will be out in the next three years.
"This facility is important to their re-entry," she said.
While McCook Junior/Senior High will lose its welding instructor Mike Harris to the program -- "and miss him deeply," said MPS Superintendent Dave Schley -- the decision for the high school to become involved with the project was "easy ... a no-brainer."
Russ Delong, of Valmont Industries, McCook, called CAST "a win-win-win situation," a very good thing for the community, for manufacturers, for the education and attraction/retention of young men and women.
Karin Lange, of Nebraska Work Force Development, said that over the past year, as this project grew from concept to reality, "I don't remember any negativism, always positive attitudes. This is the beginning of lots of good ideas."
Chipps echoed Lange's last sentiment, saying, "Stay tuned. This is going to evolve forever ... "