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Welding room – Private donors fund vocational workspace for Kennedy

By James Day

Kennedy High School in Mount Angel will have a new welding room in the fall, courtesy of a private fundraising campaign led by the Mt. Angel Community Foundation.

The project, which broke ground on April 26, is not related to the facilities bond that Mt. Angel School District voters will be voting on in the May 16 election. For the welding facility, no district funds will be involved beyond teacher salaries and upkeep once the building goes up and is turned over to the district.

“I’m real excited about it,” Super-intendent Rachel Stucky told Our Town. “The welding room is really important and it’s a strong reflection of our community. Projects like this help set our community apart. It’s not unusual for it to happen in Mount Angel. This is a community that supports its schools by donating time and funding. This is who we are.”

The project began amid a resurgence in student interest in welding at Kennedy. With that came the challenge of having enough space. The school’s wood shop facility is not compatible with welding work because of fire and safety issues.

John Gooley, vice president of the Mt. Angel Community Foundation board, said the group has raised almost $90,000 for the project, with another $25,000 representing in-kind donations of labor and materials.

Key fundraising participants in the drive, Gooley said, were the Michael Roth Fund, the William Annen Family Foundation, the Bob Fessler Family Foundation, Withers Lumber and Oktoberfest.

Also involved have been the Grant Company (general contracting and design), Lucky Construction (framing), K&E Excavating (site work), Troy Eberle of Eberle Concrete and RiverBend Materials and Tom Riedman of Riedman Home Construction (siding and roofing) as well as Northside Electric, Western Drywall, Jet Sprinklers, Dan Wilgus of Wilgus LLC (heating), Taylor Metal, Hobbs Painting, Frank Lumber and IWP Lumber. Nick Harville of the Salem Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR) provided expertise and trouble-shooting.

The welding room will be named for Gem Equipment, which has a Mount Angel plant. Gem contributed $25,000.

“I am so honored to be able to help our high school to make this all come together,” Gooley said, “and so thankful for all the money and friends who stepped up and contributed on anything that was asked of them. What makes this project so special is we did all this ourselves and didn’t need one dime from the district.”

Gooley and the foundation do not intend to stop here. They continue to fundraise for a second phase of the project, which includes some high-tech equipment – a plasma cutter, an inverter welder and a hydraulic metal shear – that could cost an additional $30,000.

The welding program also will be designed with some built-in self-sufficiency. Students in the program will use their classroom skills to craft small items that will be sold at an Oktoberfest booth, perhaps as soon as the 2024 festival, with the proceeds going to welding shop materials purchases.

The Mt. Angel Community Foundation already has funds in place for vocational scholarships that could place Kennedy welding students at a trade school or perhaps Chemeketa Community College.

“We’re going to retain these kids,” Gooley said, “and if they want to learn more they can go to Chemeketa. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Superintendent Stucky agreed.

“Not everyone chooses to be college-bound,” she said of the classic four-year track through a college or university. “We need to meet these vocational needs. Adding the welding room helps, but we want to expand to other areas of career exploration and meet the needs of kids where they are at.”

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