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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 09/24/03
RETC a big hit with students and teachers
by RICK DESOTELL
Observer Sports Writer
Students Kevin Malburg and Bill Thompson try out some of the shop's new equipment in their two-hour shop class block.
by JENNIFER PRESTON
Observer Staff WriterThe Romeo Engineering and Technology Center opened without much of a hitch Wednesday, Aug. 27, to the delight of more than 500 students.
"I love it here. I'd never want to go back to the high school," said senior Nick Colcernian. Colcernian is one of a handful of students who attend an entire day of classes at the RETC. He has a two-hour block class of metal shop and a two-hour block of electronics, an English class and a psychology class.
Most other students who attend class at the $19.1 million RETC split their day between the center and Romeo High School.
Classes now offered at the brand new, state of the art 92,000 square foot facility include: electronic technician, computer repair, emergency medical technician, architectural drafting, machine tool technology, accounting, computers in the workspace, desktop publishing and office technology.
Two classes new to the Romeo Community Schools offered in the building are construction trades and hospitality food service. A child care program will be instituted at the center next year.
The center, which is helping to alleviate overcrowding at RHS, also offers English and social studies classes.
The English and social studies classes are what allow students to split their days evenly between RHS and RETC. Most have a two hour block of their career tech specialty, and also an English or social studies class that they take at RETC. There are about 300 students attending the school in the morning, and 220 in the afternoon. Students who attend in the morning return to Romeo High School for lunch and afternoon classes. Students who attend in the afternoon arrive at RETC after having lunch at the high school.
Doreen Fuciarelli is a hall monitor at the new center.
"I love it," she said. "The high school was pretty tight, this is nice."
At the spot where she sits on duty, Fuciarelli can see all the way down both of the long classroom hallways of the building.
"It's pretty straightforward and easy to maneuver," she said. "It's so quiet. In between classes it's like you're in a library. The doors are shut automatically, you can really hear a pin drop."
The center, which on first glance looks much like a factory inside, has several innovative features. The hallways are open and airy, ceilings have been left open to reveal heating, venting and air conditioning equipment, all to invoke a high-tech, "industrial" feel. It's a big contrast to RHS, which was originally built in 1958.
"The kids love it, one of the best features is that it's air-conditioned," Fuciarelli said. "They wish that it could be a senior building."
In teacher Guy Hart's two hour shop class block, students are still excited about all of the new gear in their brand new shop.
"This is a really great shop, probably the best in Michigan, at least for schools," said senior Martin Camaj. "We're getting the best education on the best equipment."
Junior Jeremy Fredericks agreed.
"The shop at the high school was nothing like this," he said. "It was really like a cardboard box compared to this."
"We can machine anything and everything," added Eddie Brabant, the machine shop foreman.
Hart, who's been a teacher for 27 years, and in the Romeo district for 20 of those years, is not surprised by his students' reactions.
"Like me, they're all in awe of what's out here in the building itself," he said.
Even Hart has trouble believing that all of the high-tech equipment in the classroom is his.
"This is all my dream," he said.
The new shop is a complete turnaround from the space he had to work with in his old classroom.
"We've got room coming out of our ears here," he said. "With all of the equipment we had up at the high school, it was so overcrowded that to add any more machinery, it was going to start being unsafe."
Hart now spends his entire teaching day at the RETC.
"We've got so much equipment now there will hardly be anybody ever waiting to get on a machine," he said."For a comprehensive high school, we probably have one of the best equipped, set-up shops in the state if not the country," he added. "At a high school level, no one can compete with us."
The director of this new Romeo Community Schools facility is Gary Wilke, who is career and technical education director for Romeo Schools. The RETC is technically considered an adjunct of Romeo High School.
"It's working very well, better than we could have hoped," Wilke said. "Only two kids out of 500 missed the bus (the first day.) We must have done something right."
Several changes had to be made to the school day at the two schools in order to make both run smoothly. The schools added a seminar hour in order to allow travel time for the students between the two buildings, lengthening the school day from six to seven hours.
During the day, the RETC has two shorter seminar hours split up ‹ the high school has a full hour. Students can use the seminar for silent sustained reading or tutoring, among other activities.
The high school sticks with its seven minutes of passing time between classes, whereas the RETC has just four.
"It doesn't really take too long to get from place to place here, which helps," Wilke said.
A little over 10 minutes is allowed for the kids to get back and forth between the schools. Actual class hours are 47 minutes long at the RETC, 51 minutes at the high school.
The RETC doesn't end at career technical education classes. An advanced math and science center is located on the second floor of the building.
"It currently has an enrollment of 60 eighth- and ninth-graders who meet there in the morning," Wilke said. "Eventually it will be a ninth through 12th program, but it takes a few years to get one of those going."
Students walk the hallway of the RETC
The two social studies teachers and one and a half English teachers who also teach in the building do make it possible for those few students to get their entire education at the RETC without ever going back to the high school.
"We don't have a hot lunch program here, which is why we really couldn't have kids here all day," Wilke said. "But if they bring their lunch anyway, it's not really an issue," he said of students like Colcernian.
The center already has built a reputation for itself. More than a dozen students come in from Armada to the school, and one from Stoney Creek Rochester Schools. Two home-schooled students also attend RETC for part of the day.
"The mother of the home schooled kids just called up and asked if they could come in," Wilke said. "They know what we have here is quality and rare ‹ I doubt you could set up that machine shop in your basement."
Wilke was an electronics teacher for 25 years before becoming the Career and Technical Educational Director for Romeo Community Schools in 1995. A bond issue passed in 2000 that made the construction of the RETC possible. Since then, Wilke has pretty much lived and breathed RETC.
"In the beginning, we talked about having two little high schools with 800 or 900 kids, but under state financing that doesn't work," he said. "You need to have a bigger high school. But, parents want small schools for their kids, so that they can establish their identity and not get lost in the shuffle. So, we looked at what we could take out of the high school that could be the cleanest break."
A lot of pre-planning went into the RETC before any concrete building scheme was made.
"This building was designed from the curriculum up," Wilke said. "We decided what was in each room, and went from there. We actually gave the architect (Fanning/-Howey and Associates of Novi) a specification book that was over 100 pages thick."
In the end, the building really became something for the district to be proud of. "This is the only building in the state that has vocational and general education side by side," Wilke said. "Kids can spend half or all their day here and still get all of the academics they need."
As an adjunct to the high school, it would have been most convenient to locate the RETC on or near the RHS grounds.
"The problem is, the high school is landlocked, so there wasn't really room for much expansion," Wilke said.
Instead the district looked at other land it owned, and settled on a site on Jewell Road just off 29 Mile, adjacent to the Powell Middle School grounds and Don Barnabo Field.
Bad weather delayed initial construction on the building.
"We had originally thought this building was going to be done at the end of July," Wilke said. "But with our horrible winter, we could never pour the concrete. Tradesmen have been in here working long hours, weekends. Some people have been asking ŒWhy isn't it done?' I say ŒHave you ever built a house? This is a 92,000 square foot house.'"
Grass is sprouting on the grounds, and the parking lots were paved before the start of the year. "All of the stuff is coming together," Wilke said. "We're getting there."
Much credit is given to the construction manager on the job, Etkin Skanska.
"Etkin had it all planned out to almost the day," Wilke said. "They did a remarkable job."
The shaky economy meant lower bids from subcontractors ‹ a good thing for the school district, which was trying hard to stick to its budget of $20 million.
We went into a really good bidding climate, we hit it at the right time," said George Herring, project manager for Etkin Skanska. "It's a basic building, it's put together well. The architect really did a good job of looking ahead and figuring out what the school will need in the future. We have plenty of room for expansion."
The building is a steel structure, and most interior walls are drywall, which makes adding on much easier.
"It gives it a softer feel too," Wilke said. "We wanted it to look like a business, to get kids acclimated to a work environment. You see a lot of non-school stuff."
The high-tech design of the building was very much done on purpose.
"Everything's functional," Herring said. "This is a non-traditional school building, it's an office building. People are really getting away from the old schoolhouse building, it's too rigid, too hard to expand. This building is built to expand."
Herring expects Skanska to be on the grounds until October finishing up sitework and other small building issues.
All in all, Wilke said he's been pretty shocked that things have run so smoothly, particularly the first day of classes in the building.
"I was just waiting for there to be total chaos," he said. "The funniest thing was seeing seniors with maps."
These seniors with maps, though, are the same kids who will say they wish the building had been built sooner, and appreciate how much more prepared the school will make them for the real world. In particular, Nick Colcernian, the senior who stays at the center his entire day, is excited about what the classes at the center mean for his future.
"This really might determine my life paths," he said. "I can't really decide between metals or electronics, and being able to take them both ... hopefully this will direct me in the path I want to go in. It's great here, I love it. Everything's new. In classes, everyone has their own computer and other supplies," he said. "I want to stay here another year."