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Hands-on learning

Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune Kash Livdahl, left, Liam Mchenry and Riley Perkins work Friday on the design of a tiny house during a skills training class at South Medford High School. Video courtesy of Medford School District.
Planned facility would help juniors and seniors learn a trade

A Medford center designed to help land jobs for Rogue Valley high school students could be ready for takeoff later this year.

Medford schools, in collaboration with the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, is developing plans to convert a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on Central Avenue, just north of Les Schwab Tire Center, into a facility that would welcome juniors and seniors interested in learning a trade.

“We’re trying to create something that is really unprecedented in Oregon,” said Hal Jones, Career and Technical Education program and Pathways coordinator at Medford schools.

The city bought the warehouse, at 727 N. Central Ave., and the surrounding 3.25 acres in 2019 for $1.75 million as part of a long-range plan to revitalize the Liberty Park neighborhood.

In 2018, MURA set aside $18 million for redevelopment of the neighborhood.

The original portion of the warehouse was built sometime before 1950 to house the Pacific Cooperative Poultry Producers and was later expanded with an additional warehouse bays.

With roll-up doors, docks and high ceilings, the warehouse would make a good place for students to practice hands-on skills.

The regional workforce center would be used to train local students who’ve gained some pre-apprentice skills at high schools and give them more advanced instruction to prepare them to work at local companies.

Batzer Construction and Adroit Construction have already expressed interest in partnering to get the project off the ground.

Students would get hands-on training in construction, such as framing walls and handling woodworking equipment.

Jones said his expectation is that the workforce center would be funded through local industry and grants and not through the school district budget.

The training center could open by the end of this year.

Some of the trades could include electrical, heating and air conditioning, manufacturing and even how to work on electric cars.

Many local schools already have programs in place to teach the fundamentals of various trades.

The workforce training center would provide the next step to get students on a career path.

Jones said he’s heading to the Salem/Keizer schools next week to see firsthand a program that could be a model for the one planned in Medford.

The center could also take advantage of an Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries apprenticeship program.

“Right now our apprenticeship training is spread out,” Jones said.

RCC and Crater Lake Electrical are some of the organizations that offer apprentice programs locally.

Tom Walker, chief executive officer at Adroit, said, “The end goal is to create jobs and have people with the skills to make a living.”

Walker said his company already needs laborers, carpenters and truck drivers as well as skilled workers.

Adroit is willing to help back the program, he said, though he said the details are still being worked out.

Medford schools is looking at a similar career and technical education program at Salem-Keizer Public Schools, which has 47 state approved programs and six startup programs.

Walker said the Salem-Keizer model could be a good template for the Medford training center.

“We were advocating for not reinventing the wheel,” Walker said.

While the training center would give students the basics, Walker said it takes time to fully train workers.

“You don’t just enter the program and then suddenly they become skilled employees.”

With the construction industry booming at the moment, it’s hard for many companies to find workers with the right skills, and the workforce center would be a step in the right direction.

“Certainly time is of the essence right now,” he said.

The MURA board, which is made up of city councilors, has expressed support for the idea.

“I’m going to be your biggest supporters and cheerleader,” City Councilor Tim D’Alessandro said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.