When Kim Eimers takes former Lewiston High School graduates on tours of the A. Neil DeAtley Career Technical Center, she often hears the same question: Why wasn’t this here when I was in school?

The answer is simple: The money wasn’t available before to build Lewiston’s centerpiece facility for career technical education.

The DeAtley Center was opened in August 2020 as part of the $59.8 million bond passed in 2017 to build a new high school in Lewiston. The $10 million, 40,000-square-foot facility holds all of the career technical programs for the school with state-of-the-art equipment.

One year into operations at the new center, those programs offer students in Lewiston and beyond the opportunity to build career and postsecondary skills in a variety of fields.

Eimers, director of student services, is more than happy to show off the features of the new facility. One that students and visitors can view right away is the living classroom concept.

Parts of the building’s walls are open so that wiring, HVAC systems and pipes can be seen. It allows students to see and apply what they are learning to create in a real-world setting, without having to take apart a room.

Inside the individual classrooms, creating space for all forms of instruction helps both students and teachers. Power outlets hang from the ceiling so students can easily charge computers and devices used for learning no matter where they sit in class. Space is maximized by keeping cabinets and storage behind the white boards. Many rooms have garage doors that allow for bigger projects to be brought into the labs. Some of the labs also have mezzanines to provide storage space for supplies and projects.

The DeAtley Center houses eight options in career technical education that were taught at the former Lewiston High. All freshmen at the school are required to take an exploratory class and choose three of the eight programs. Many of the programs have different levels that build on students’ skills and seniors in the programs all take an internship. Depending on the program students pick, they can receive certification in Microsoft Office and Adobe and earn dual credits into postsecondary college or trade school.

“We’re about 1,000 feet from (Lewis-Clark State College Schweitzer Career & Technical Education Center) so that partnership is really nice,” Eimers said. “The kids can literally move without moving off the hill.”

CONSTRUCTION

Stuart Johnson is the only trades and industry teacher who didn’t come to the school from the industry. He’s a former math teacher who has handled the construction program for the past 11 years.

When the job opened, he jumped at the chance to teach a hands-on course that helps kids see the connection between math skills and real-world application through construction.

“They’re still using all that math, but now they’re building it instead of hypothesing or looking at somebody else doing it,” Johnson said. “But the hands on was the biggest thing for me, ’cause you see kids — their lives change a lot of times because they’re not getting this opportunity at home like maybe we used to 30 years ago.”

Those opportunities are both inside and outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, Johnson’s students begin in the level one class by making a carpenter’s bench with simple tools to then move to scale model houses and sheds in level two. In level three, they help with projects in the community like the Territorial Capitol replica.

Johnson built a relationship with the Nez Perce County Historical Society that led to the construction students being involved with the Territorial Capitol project, a re-creation of Idaho’s first seat of government. The class helped build the replica at its former location near the Nez Perce County Courthouse and its move to the Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum.

Now people and organizations in the community bring Johnson projects for students to work on. He tries to get the students involved as much as possible in the community because it helps them network and could lead to a future job or volunteer opportunity.

His new lab has a ventilation system that moves dust up and out of the facility.

The equipment can be moved, including the ventilation, which can be taken apart and reconnected to other areas of the room. Johnson has rearranged the room from the original design, moving his desk to different locations around the lab, trying to figure out where it works best for him and his students.

“Some of the main components will stay where they’re at, but a lot of peripheral things I’m still shuffling. It’s kinda like moving into a new house,” he said. “I might get it reconfigured and then realize, ‘Oh, this wasn’t the best.’ ”

MACHINING

The lab in the machining classroom has all the latest bells and whistles, including a new $250,000 computer numerical control (CNC) machine that students use to create precision tools.

Brianna Reynolds, a junior, wanted to do machining because her parents are machinists and have a shop, Absolute Machine Solutions. Through the program she’s been learning and gaining experience to help with her future career. She’s planning to take business management in college so one day she can help with the family business.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do when I first entered the school, and then I was introduced to this class,” she said. “I’m a bit more creative and like working hands-on.”

Juniors Luke Mastroberardino and Austin Landrus also enjoy the opportunity to learn hands-on. They spend most of their time creating parts on the machines and less time behind a desk in the classroom.

Not only does the program give students hands-on opportunities, but also industry experience as the center has partnered with a local business, Bentz Boats. The company provides materials and drawings of the parts. Students use the CNC machine to redraw and create the toolpath that cuts out the part. The program has been working with Bentz Boats for the past 10 years, according to teacher Pat Schmidt.

Mastroberardino and Landrus find it rewarding to create a part that’s being used by a business. “You know someone’s actually going to use it. You’re not just making a piece that’s going to sit on the shelf,” Landrus said.

WELDING

The welding program is new to the career technical program, but that has brought with it some challenges.

The program has all the tools it needs, including 10 welding bays that can be used for metals like stainless steel and aluminum and plasma cutting machines. There is a room for grinding metal that has ventilation so the particles don’t spread to the rest of the work area.

The one thing the program doesn’t have is a teacher.

Eimers is hopeful the school can work with LCSC to fill that need. LCSC has a welding instructor but not a facility like at the DeAtley Center.

“That’s an ongoing conversation that we’re having with (LCSC), hopefully to create that partnership to help both LCSC and our regional students at the secondary level,” she said. “It’s my whole intent that we would have some sort of welding program in the fall (next year).”

AUTO TECH

The biggest program in the trades and industry side is automotive technology.

Steve Hoffine teaches all the auto classes, which begin with vehicle maintenance and end with using diagnostic tools.

“In Auto 3, we would like to have them industry working, but it’s kinda hard for me to get 24 kids out in the field working,” Hoffine said. “We have a few that are out there but not that many.”

The challenge is many of the employers are restricted because of age requirements. One work-around for this issue is for the program and employers to participate in a workforce development group that allows younger students to work specific jobs, Eimers said.

Hoffine said many of his students move on to auto programs at LCSC and College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, which partners with General Motors.

Sophomores Joseph Louis and Gabriel Scheib want to continue into auto-tech careers after they graduate. Louis plans to go on to LCSC and take the diesel program and Scheib wants to attend the University of Idaho and study electrical engineering.

The lab with the auto-tech facility will look familiar to anyone who’s taken their car in for new tires or an oil change. There are car lifts and each station has a tool chest so students have their own supply.

ENGINEERING

The center of the engineering lab holds the robot arena. Students have made robots that compete in events from local to international through Skills USA, which focuses on the robotics side.

Idaho Science and Engineering Fairs is another event students participate in where students use their engineering skills to address real-world issues in areas like microbiology, environment and physical sciences.

Engineering teacher Terri Varnado said this year students have been working on 17 projects, a record for the program, which include geographical phone apps, electromagnetic brakes and a solar-powered cattle ear tag.

All of the projects the students work on are done at the school. “There are lots of ways for students to research, design and produce their projects,” Eimers said.

Robotic arms also help with engineering, a tool donated by Schweitzer Engineering Labs. The lab has a large printer, 3D printer and a carbon printer, “which is pretty unheard of in a high school pre-engineering program,” Eimers said.

Varnado said the access to the printers helps the students to develop modeling skills, print parts for their projects and create industrial grade jigs and fixtures.

“Our hope is to partner with local business and industry for projects students can work on and prototype in the DeAtley Center engineering lab,” she said in an email. “It is my goal to give Region 2 students the most cutting edge learning experience they can have that prepares them for the technological workforce and/or post-secondary education in the state of Idaho and beyond.”

The engineering lab already collaborates with one local business, SEL. In 2016, Glen Riley, an SEL employee, began helping with Skills USA. Now he comes to the lab every Tuesday afterschool to help students and Varnado. He often brings engineers and technicians to help students with their projects.

“While his focus is still on student learning and skills acquisition, he helps me to make our work space and curriculum the best it can possibly be,” she said.

HEALTH OCCUPATIONS

The middle of the health occupations classroom looks like a standard classroom with desks and chairs for students to sit at and all face the same direction. The rest of the room looks like a health care facility.

Hospitals beds line the side of the room with simulation dolls in the beds and medical equipment next to them. The sim dolls can be programmed to have various medical conditions that include issues like breathing, blood pressure and pain. Students diagnose and treat those patients. The room also simulates a long-term care facility and has operational sinks, showers and lifts.

Junior Colby Weeks said he started taking health occupation classes because he was interested in physical therapy as a career. “I was thinking about it before, but it confirmed that was what I wanted to do.”

Having the space and new equipment has helped health occupations and health science teacher Debbie Wassmuth be able to give her students more opportunities to learn. Wassmuth also likes the flexible design of the room and can easily move equipment around.

“With the space that I have now, it’s like every day I come in here and I’m thinking of a new idea. How can I do this? You know, for incorporating into my lesson plans,” she said.

This has also allowed Wassmuth to expand what the program offers, including certified nursing assistant, pharmaceutical technology, mental health assistant and a course on medical ethics. The room can also be changed to add a dental hygienist scenario, which may be offered in the future.

Before the DeAtley Center, that expansion wouldn’t have worked because of the tight classroom space Wassmuth was working in at the former Lewiston High School.

“I was basically teaching in a closet,” she said. “I mean, it was really designed for the art room closet and I was just able to make it happen, but it was a very cramped space.”

BUSINESS MARKETING

The business marketing classroom looks like a standard classroom compared to the other rooms at the DeAtley Center. While the classroom might not have new equipment and tools like the trades and industry side, that doesn’t mean the program is lacking in new technology.

One of those new features is the printing room, which is small but holds some big projects for the students. The printer produces full-size posters, vinyls and flags that are student-made with Adobe products like Photoshop. Eimers said some of the work is even used off of the school campus.

“That’s the hope as we build the programs more and have the facility now to have those outside jobs, projects come in,” she said.

If it wasn’t for equipment in the room, the sound room might get mistaken for a closet, but one look at the microphone clearly indicates it’s a modern recording studio. The room also has a glass window that looks through to the green room used for video productions.

In this area, students are able to produce videos for announcements and student competitions, like DECA students who used it in their competitions last year, which were held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cameras can also be taken off campus so students can film projects.

“This is all designed with a local advertising agency so that the students are getting what they would get if they took a job in that industry area,” Eimers said.

It also lays the groundwork for streaming events, including sports at the new high school gym.

The business marketing program is tech-driven and students use computers, Chromebooks and tablets to create prototypes for their projects. It’s also part of the DECA program. LHS has the largest number of students in the DECA program for the state of Idaho, according to Eimers.

HOSPITALITY AND TOURISM

In the hospitality and tourism room, it looks more like you have stepped into someone’s house. Eight kitchens fill the classroom with cabinets, a washer and dryer is on the side and the middle is taken up with desks and the white board at the front.

A demo kitchen is being put together and will allow students to explore culinary and other hospitality and tourism programs as well as food and nutrition, family consumer science, teen and adult living.

The hospitality and tourism class used the printing room to print signs around the school to help students navigate the high school. Next semester, students in the program will tour hotels and restaurants in the area.

Just mentioning the food and nutrition class got students who took the class excited. Students not only learned culinary skills but also about food from around the world.

Senior Madeline Thornton said the program got her interested in hospitality and tourism as a career. She likes that the DeAtley Center gives students the chance to explore career options and learn new skills.

“It’s definitely nice to learn about different careers that are available,” she said.

FUTURE OF CTE

Allowing students from other school districts in the region to learn at the DeAtley Center is one of the challenges for Eimers.

The funding formula for Lewiston High stipulates that 15 percent of the enrollment in career technical programs has to come from outside the district. Eimers said hitting that mark has been difficult because of geography. The DeAtley Center serves 14 school districts, from Grangeville to Kamiah and Kooskia to Moscow and Potlatch. She is working with superintendents in those districts to get students to Lewiston and get resources out to those places.

One of the ways Eimers can achieve that is using the industry training and collaboration room, which allows for workshops, conferences and breakout sessions. Monitors can be used for Zoom meetings. If students can’t come to Lewiston, even virtually, Eimers can send the DeAtley Center’s mobile equipment to other schools.

Another goal is to get middle school students in the Lewiston School District into the DeAtley Center. If that happens, students would have more opportunities to explore the programs at the facility before they decide what classes they want to take when they enter high school.

Eimers hopes to have an open house to not only to show off the building, but also to show those in the community and larger region what’s available to students.

“We’ve been talking about it for two years and we’ve now been able to take it from a concept to an actual living building, so that makes it a lot more palatable and people can actually see and touch,” she said.

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.