Wilkins School reopens as Victoria College craft training center

Sept. 4, 2010 at 4:04 a.m.

Students attend the first day of classes at Victoria College's pipefitting school at the former Wilkins School.

Students attend the first day of classes at Victoria College's pipefitting school at the former Wilkins School.

PORT LAVACA - Alice Ora Wilkins played an important role in shaping Calhoun County's first black school.

But she probably never dreamed that the school she helped build, renamed the Wilkins School in 1937, would continue to serve as an educational resource for the community today.

Recently, several community partners renovated the unused space and put it back into service, providing a place to conduct specialized craft training classes that address employment needs in the area.

It all began with a coalition of interested community partners, starting with the school district and local industry, looking for solutions to address the need for specialized craft training.

"Our local industry sometimes has a difficult time finding craftsmen with the proper training and certification," said Calhoun County Judge Mike Pfeifer.

Led by Ron Flournoy, this career and technical coalition, which later grew to include the city, county and the college, looked at what kind of pre-employment training was necessary to prepare workers for employment in area industries. After the appropriate curriculum was agreed upon, the coalition then considered how to develop and implement both an interim and a long-term equipment training facility in Port Lavaca.

"When the Victoria College Calhoun County Center first opened and we saw how fast enrollment increased for this kind of training, we were astonished," Pfeifer said. "We knew then that we needed a trade academy in town."

The community coalition then brought together a number of community partners who volunteered resources to the project.

"This coalition has been a true community partnership - no one entity could have accomplished all this alone," said Laurie Harvey, campus manager at the VC Calhoun County Center. "By combining a little bit of resources and materials from each community partner, this project has been realized to benefit this community.

"It is also a tremendous way to honor the original vision that one extraordinary woman had, to provide educational access to all of Calhoun County."

Pipefitting, the first craft training class in the new Wilkins facility, began in August.

"We are currently working with the coalition to procure equipment that will enable us to offer millwright training at this new facility," said Sherri Pall, VC's continuing education business operations manager.

The school's other craft training classes, such as electrical and HVAC, will still be held at the VC Calhoun County Center. Welding classes will still be at the Calhoun High School.

"VC is always ready to partner with area industry and the communities we serve so that we can continue to provide the most relevant workforce training," said Tom Butler, college president. "Specialized training helps strengthen the local economy by providing education that helps workers get the right training so that local industry gets the skilled workers they need."

"It is especially an honor to be part of the long tradition of quality education that has taken place in the Wilkins School," Butler said.



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