Kent’s planned advanced manufacturing center expansion will help better train students for careers

Image of Kent Roosevelt High School
Kent Roosevelt High School pictured in a file photo. Roger Hoover/The Portager

Kent schools recently announced receipt of a $2.3 million state grant to expand an advanced manufacturing and innovation center at Theodore Roosevelt High School.

The 3,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility will be sited on the north side of Kent’s Roosevelt High School. It will include new classroom space outfitted with computers for each student and will have room for other new equipment that three focused business advisory groups will recommend.

The facility will be used by students in the Six District Educational Compact, which joins teens from the Kent, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Stow-Munroe Falls, Tallmadge and Woodridge school districts. All in all, the compact offers 29 career-technical education options.

Students using the expanded center must be enrolled in the compact’s electronics, robotics and programming pathway; the engineering academy; or the computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering technologies program.

The expansion means 160 students instead of 90 will receive targeted education that will ready them for high-tech futures, said Brian Bachtel, Kent’s director of career technical education.

Matt Metcalf is CEO of Colonial Machine, which makes injection and compression molds for the plastics industry.

He joined the compact’s business advisory board to teach career ed teachers what area manufacturers are looking for in potential employees.

He said he’d tried before, but couldn’t even get area superintendents to return his calls. Then the manufacturing landscape shifted, STEM programs blossomed, and suddenly school leaders were willing to listen to what the real world wanted.

Kent’s manufacturing and innovation center is prime training ground for future employees, Metcalf said.

“We have one of their students working for us part-time in the afternoons, and he’s doing a great job,” Metcalf said. “I think he’s enjoying learning on the job here and being able to take that back to class and being able to understand what they’re learning and how it relates to the real world.”

Without the compact’s career ed program and internship opportunity, the young man wouldn’t have had any idea of what industry or manufacturing opportunities are available. With it, he is able to get experience programming and running the CNC (computer numerical control) machines that turn hunks of metal into usable parts, Metcalf said.

The expanded center will provide room for a better and more realistic workflow and manufacturing environment, allowing more students to take their computer training directly over to a machine lab, Metcalf said.

That education and experience matters. At least at Colonial Machine, program graduates can expect to earn about $20 an hour, approximately 20% more than someone would who comes in with no experience, he said.

Also on the advisory board are representatives from Swagelok in Solon, BWXT Nuclear Operations Group in Barberton, Kyocera SGS in Cuyahoga Falls, Esterle Mold & Machine in Stow and PERMCO in Streetsboro. They’ve all told Bachtel the same thing.

“The workforce need in our region for very high-skilled, high-end manufacturing and engineering technology personnel is extremely high, and with the Intel plant that’s going in in Columbus, it’s making it even more pronounced. We have just a flooded need of workforce,” he said.

The center will be built with funds from the state’s Career Technical Construction Program, which is intended to expand career-technical facilities in state schools. No local funds will be expended.

Kent schools Superintendent Tom Larkin anticipates groundbreaking early this year, and Bachtel hopes to offer the first classes during the 2025-26 academic year.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.