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Education

High interest shown in Lakeland’s welding classes next year

welding metal
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A mix of academic and concrete issues greeted the Lakeland School Board Monday, as they heard reports on the new welding instruction program that will be offered next fall.

Director of buildings and grounds Mark Marasch is scrambling to get a facility ready for the welding program. The board’s tentative budget has allocated some $54,000 for equipment, such as welders.

But it will take about $67,000 more to install a 400-amp electrical panel and related drops to each welding booth, as well as the installation of an air filtration system. That’s not in the current budget, Marasch said.

District administrator Claire Martin offered a ready solution: hold off on buying fire doors, which were estimated to cost about $73,000. Instead, she suggested using those funds for the welding program.

There’s a nation-wide shortage of welders, and employers are offering high salaries and good fringe benefit packages to lure them in. At Lakeland, nearly 125 students are interested in taking welding classes next fall.

In addition to preparing a welding facility, Marasch said Monday the school has to fix large cracks in the tennis courts. He speculated water has gotten underneath the concrete and the thaw-and-freeze cycle has caused the separations.

At a prior meeting, the tennis coach said tournament play might not be scheduled at Lakeland if the surface isn’t properly repaired.

A complete renovation could cost $70,000, which, Marasch noted, hasn’t worked its way in the 2022-23 budget. Admitting it was a “Band-aid” solution, the board directed Marasch to use a crack sealant to get the school through another season of tennis play.

In another budget item, the Lakeland STAR Academy is looking for an additional 9-10 instructors for next year. They include a couple of case managers and paraprofessionals and a drivers education instructor.

Martin asked the board to table the requests until administration has looked more closely at the needs. Not all may be needed, she said. For instance, the requested English instructor has already been accounted for in the next budget.

The board also authorized contributing $20,000 annually to cover a share of maintenance, heating and air conditioning of the new Charter Transition Center that is expected to open this fall. Primarily for autism students ages 18-21, the center will be located in the Medical Arts Building along U.S. Highway 51. The sponsors have already raised $700,000 for renovating the building.

“It’s basically set up to put independent living on steroids,” said Gregg Walker, president of the Lakeland Star/Academy Governance Council. The facility will have classrooms and a kitchen. The focus will be on finding jobs and independent living.

“It’s all sensory-friendly, especially on the autism side, so you can concentrate on education and get them to a higher level,” he added.

Board chairman Gary Smith commended all who have been involved in planning, fundraising and the donors who are bringing the center to a reality.

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