Oil, gas industry has positive impact in Carrollton schools

Rob Smith, a consultant with Depco LLC, a mechatronics equipment company, shows some of the training center, including an automated material-handling robot (right) in the Young Entrepreneurs Classroom in the new Carrollton Schools POWER Training and outdoor learning center during an open house Friday in Carrollton. Photo from Times Recorder.

Why it matters: Thanks to new revenue generated by the oil and gas boom and grants from the state, the Carrollton Exempted Village Schools District has been able to build a new training center for students and is making plans to build a new K-12 building. School and local officials attribute the growth to the oil and gas boom, which has transformed Carroll County over the past couple of years.

For Carrollton Exempted Village Schools, 2015 is looking to be a year of big changes — all of them positive, school officials say.

On Friday, the district held an open house for its new POWER Training Center and broke ground for a compressed natural gas fueling station for its buses.

In the fall, it will introduce new science and technology classes for its students. And in July, Carrollton should hear from the Ohio School Facilities Commission on whether the district will receive state aid to build a new K-12 facility at no cost to Carroll County taxpayers.

“Great things are happening,” Superintendent David Quattrochi told invited guests before a tour of the POWER Training Center and outdoor learning center.

Both school and local officials attribute this good fortune to the oil and gas boom, which has transformed Carroll County during the past couple of years.

One of the speakers, Carroll County Commissioner Robert Wirkner, talked about “a tale of two counties.”

Before the boom, Carroll County was a community plagued with double-digit unemployment, few prospects for its young people, cuts in school funding and an inability to pay for needed repairs to county buildings.

Today, he said, the county is a place of hope and opportunity. “We truly are turning the point of moving forward for prosperity for all,” Wirkner said.

The new training center is located on Scio Road south of Carrollton on a 165-acre piece of property that had mostly been unused except for the district office, the football stadium and the Field of Dreams ball fields.

The 5,000-square-foot training center was made possible by a $4 million Straight A grant from the state of Ohio.

It includes a Young Entrepreneurs Classroom where students can learn mechatronics, a multidisciplinary field of engineering that includes a combination of such things as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering, control engineering and computer engineering.

Area companies will be invited to use the space, according to Ed Robinson, the district’s director of programs. “If they can train their folks here, that’s what we want to do,” he said.

In addition, the training center includes a greenhouse and orchard where fruits and vegetables will be grown by students. “We hope to use the garden to supplement the school cafeteria,” said Barbara Burns, the school’s child nutrition services director. “It’s the ultimate buying local.”

This program will save the district money in its cafeterias and increase participation in the school lunch program, she said.

The center also will be used for outdoor learning, according to Amy Miller, the district’s POWER coordinator. This year, 600 Carrollton students have visited the center so far on field trips — one-third of all students in the district. “The goal is to get all students out here at least once,” she said.

Recently, Carrollton fifth-graders planted trees on reclaimed strip mine land as part of a reforestation project, she said.

The compressed natural gas fueling station — also paid for with the Straight A grant — will fuel 10 school buses, Robinson said. No buses have been purchased yet.

Work will begin on Monday for the fueling station.

Andrea Feinstein, executive vice president of America Natural, which is working with Carrollton to develop the facility, said it will be a boon to the community, allowing the district to operate its buses with “environmentally clean, locally sourced” fuel.

Carrollton received a second Straight A grant — $633,000 — to purchase 800 technology devices, either computers or software, Quattrochi said.

The district also has worked to expand its STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) class offerings.

Last year, the district had one class with 23 eighth graders, Robinson said. This year, it had 966 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The goal is to get 1,200 students taking such classes.

It will start offering classes such as bio-medicine, for students hoping to become physicians or nurses, and introduction to engineering, he said.

District officials are looking forward to construction of a new K-12 building, which will be located on the same tract of land as the learning center.

A big chunk of the money to build it will come from an enterprise zone agreement signed in 2014 with Carroll County Energy, a company that is building a 700-megawatt plant north of Carrollton. The company was attracted here because of the county’s abundant natural gas supplies. The plant will burn natural gas to generate enough electricity to power 700,000 homes.

In return for tax abatements, the school district will receive $1.3 million annually for 30 years from Carroll County Energy.

Robinson said the new school will replace buildings that are between 85 and 102 years old. The newest section of the current high school was built in 1952. “We’re way overdue for a new facility,” he said, adding that the district’s students and teachers deserve one.

Quattrochi said he is confident Carrollton will get funding from the state to build the school without asking area taxpayers for help. “It’s going to take time, but it’s also going to happen,” the superintendent said.

“This is the kind of deal that will serve our whole community,” Robinson said. “Schools have to be in the forefront of growth.”

From Times Recorder.com  |  May 8, 2015