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Schools eye STEM building

PLANS FOR GROWTH – Steubenville City Schools is planning to expand its high school campus to include STEM building on property along Fourth Street. -- Michael D. McElwain

STEUBENVILLE — Steubenville City Schools is planning a major expansion of its STEM program, a 28,000-square-foot building downtown that will connect to the high school with a catwalk.

The $12 million project will include a fully equipped learning center as well as a greenhouse. Water and sewer lines will be upgraded in the project area.

“We’re really excited, just to (be getting) a state-of-the-art facility,” said Shana Wydra, director of STEM and career and technical education for SCS. “We currently offer 10 career tech programs in the high school, some of our classrooms have two-to three tech programs operating (out of the same classroom).

“Not only are they going to get the best curriculum, but they’ll be getting state-of-the-art equipment within their field to prepare them, (including) updated flight simulators for aviation, logistic simulators for the global logistics program and state-of-the-art technology for the health informatics program.”

Key to their plans is the acquisition of the old YWCA and Salvation Army properties on Fourth Street next to the high school, and that’s already in the works: Superintendent Melinda Young said they’re days away from closing on the YWCA, and have a purchase agreement for the Salvation Army property.

SCS has already petitioned the Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone those properties, as well as a handful of other parcels, including several vacant lots it owns on Fourth Street and in Commercial Alley, from the Central Business District (B-1) to Public and Semi-Public District (P).

They’ve also asked council to consider vacating Dock Street between Fourth and Third streets.

Young and other school officials see the project as “a game-changer, not only for the school system but also for the downtown area.”

“These are high-paying jobs,” Young said, “so there isn’t a need for our young people to leave Steubenville.”

Steubenville High School Principal Ted Gorman said it gives students “opportunities they would have nowhere else.”

“Really, our goal is to create opportunities that would keep people we are educating here, and give back to our city,” he told council earlier this week.

School officials say STEM skill sets — science, technology, engineering and math — are in high demand in today’s work force: Employers want workers who grasp complex problems, understand technology and can troubleshoot problems. They say SHS’s STEM programs fuse a “rigorous academic core with challenging project work and advanced technology” in their chosen career pathway.

“The STEM curriculum leverages technology, data and communication by instilling in a new generation the knowledge, imagination and flexibility to tackle complex issues successfully in a data-rich digital world,” school officials said. “In contrast to traditional learning classrooms, all STEM curriculum includes a strong emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ in which students engage in in-class and virtual hands-on activities solving real-world problems.”

They say STEM workers earn on average $87,000 a year.

“Students can actually be certified in a STEM field and have a two-year degree by the time they graduate from high school,” Young told the planning commission last week. “We have some students who’ve already graduated who are making $40 an hour.”

SCS currently offers a range of programming, including aerospace engineering and aviation; farm to table (agriculture); global logistics and supply chain management; outdoor learning; health informatics; hydroponics; innovation, science and technology; machining and CAD; makerspace; and multimedia design.

They’d like to add things like biomedical science, environmental sustainability, phlebotomy and pharmacy technician programs, with an in-house state-of-the-art health clinic, but Wydra said they plan to be flexible.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “We love our kids, we love our students. They’re great. We just want to offer them the best programming so they can have great-paying jobs and stay in the area.”

“Everything is predicated on student interest, what’s happening in the area,” she said, pointing out they’re designing the building “so it can change over time.”

They’ve developed programs that build off Steubenville’s proximity to the area near Pittsburgh International Airport — think FedEx ground and, potentially, Amazon, as well as the Wal-Mart Distribution Center. With so many major health facilities within a 60-mile radius, the health informatics program was an obvious progression.

“With the new building, we’re really excited because we want to bring in a more sustainable agricultural program,” Wydra said. “Right now, we have a great program at McKinley STEM and we have big interest at the high school in agriculture and sustainable energy, but we don’t have the space for it. This will give us a dedicated space to bring in an agriculture program.

“The other part is the biomedical program — that would allow our students to learn about diagnosing different diseases and research treatments, and with … our CAD program, they could learn to build prosthetic prototypes…that’s cutting edge,” she adds.

They currently have more than 300 students pursuing a career tech pathway, she said. Growing the program means “being able to offer more programs and offer our students jobs in the area so they don’t have to leave Steubenville.”

“We have student interest, we have staff buy-in — we just need space,” she said.

If all goes as planned, SCS could break ground in March and the STEM building could be up and running in 2023.

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