BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A project less than a year in the making became a testament Friday to about a dozen trade students at Fort Madison High School.
The new Richmond Stadium press box that stands on the north side of the Fort Madison High School football field was dedicated on a chilly morning with local school and businesses officials and the students of the class on hand.
FMHS trades instructor Clint Kobelt spoke to the group and pointed to the efficiency of the building trades students in getting the structure in place in a short time, and how the students are actively positioning themselves for jobs right out of high school.
The project began with framing inside the school last year through the spring semester. The frames were actually marked for a disassembly so the pieces could be taken apart and reassembled in the footprint of the previous three-story press box on the visitor’s side of the field.
The new class that started in the fall took the framing apart and reassembled the press box in time for the FMHS’s first home football game based on instructions left from the previous semester trade classes.
Senior Elton Kruse was the lead student on the reassembly project. Kruse said it the timeline was intimidating initially.
“It was kind of nerve-racking at first. And getting started it took a little bit to get used to it but once we got going it went pretty smoothly,” Kruse said.
Aside from the hurried timeline, Kruse said getting everyone to work as a team and keeping everyone in the right spots was the most challenging part of the project. But he said he was honored to be part of building something that will stand as part of the school for decades.
“This is pretty cool. There’s tradition here and good history and we’re happy we could help keep that for the school.”
FMHS Principal Greg Smith said the project is perfect example of the school and community working together on projects
“Obviously, this a little bitter sweet for someone who graduated in the 70s, but it’s beautiful and we’re so proud of that program,” Smith said.
“What makes me really excited is all of these folks that have come out of the community and donated their time and expertise. This is what high school should be. A community partnership with our kids and them, and they learn from one another and that’s what it’s all about. Partnerships with the community are what we’re after. We’re trying to do more and more and more.”
Kobelt said the work shows the capabilities of the students and how the program can help fill the skills gaps area industries and manufacturers are experiencing.
“Twelve students on the first day of school walked into class and the conversation was, ‘Hey, how you doin’? How was your summer?… and oh, by the way we have 18 days to get a press box up and functional. They want it up and running by the first football game.”
He said he expected a reaction from the students, but got one he wasn’t expecting.
“They never once backed off and said it couldn’t be done,” Kobelt said. “We had eighteen days at two hours a day with a goal to get it structurally sound so they could occupy the second floor. If you take the 12 guys here at two hours a day, this is five and half days of work. It was functional… so they hit their mark. What you see is the sum total of two weeks of work. This was done in two weeks by 12 students. A fourth of that crew could not legally drive.”
With the shortage of trades people in the area, Kobelt sent a message to the company representatives at the dedication that there futures were sitting in programs like the one in place at FMHS.
“They talk about labor shortage and guys not wanting to do the big work anymore. Whenever anyone says that to you send them to the 500 wing of Fort Madison High School because that’s all we got. Everyone one of these guys, when they leave here, will have choices.”
He also thanked the school district and the community partners for helping build the program over the past five years.
“Without Greg Smith, I’m not here. We had a conversation five years ago when we started this program and I said, ‘If your in for industry standard training – if you’re ready to produce guys that are ready to go to work – I’m in. This is not the birdhouse, step-stool, woodshop program. This is exactly what it needs to be… and I thank you for allowing us to build this program.”
With all 12 of the trades program students standing on the track during the presentation, Kobelt pointed out to the students and said it was their character embedded with the wood and metal of the new pressbox.
“You aren’t better men because you built a press box… you built a press box because you decided you wanted to be better men,” he said. “The most amazing things is the 12 of you standing on the track. I’m very proud of all of you,” he said.
Corby Hawkins, representing Seither and Cherry, one of the partners in the press box said the project shows how partnerships can work and portrays how strong the trades programs are.
“I think this was a great opportunity for the school and this program to give these students the opportunity to excel where they can come out in the workforce. There is a big void in the workforce and this is a great stepping stone for them and a great opportunity for us to be able to help out with that,” Hawkins said.
In addition to the Fort Madison Community School District, area local businesses that were part of supporting the project included: Hennigar Construction, Paul and Mary Walker, Seither & Cherry, Southeast Iowa Builders Association, Mohrfeld Electric, Brockway Mechanical, and Huffman Welding & Manufacturing.