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Students Power Local Projects (Caledonian Record article)

Updated: Mar 1

Kids Learning Community Service, Trade; Non-Profit Projects Save A Fortune

Thank you to Dana Gray at the Caledonian Record for this story!

ST. JOHNSBURY — A handful of St. Johnsbury Academy electrical students missed winter carnival activities on Friday morning to put their developing skills to work at the History & Heritage Center.

The center is adding a 1,600 sq. ft. exhibit hall, and Academy educator Jeremy Roberts’ electrical students are responsible for wiring it.

On Friday, five Academy juniors and seniors helped change the new building’s electrical service from temporary to the permanent set-up. They’re part of a 14-student crew working at the center on Summer Street, in addition to electrical work at Barnet’s Town Hall and the Danville Train Station.

Roberts said he’s never had this many community-building projects going at once for his classes, but his current students are up to the challenge. He said they’re eager to develop their skills because they can see a future in the work.

“They all think this is a career path,” said Roberts.

Senior Hunter Hooker, who was one of the five students working at the exhibit hall on Friday, said before he took Roberts’ class he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after high school, and now he does.

He and fellow Academy senior and electrical student Brandon Smith will present their senior Capstone project on their hands-on electrical education experience while benefiting community projects.

Site work on the exhibit hall began last April, and much work has been done since. Multiple local contractors have been on the job, including a crew from Harold’s Concrete in Concord, who was at the center on Friday to grind the floor.

Once completed, the new building will showcase larger exhibits that the center hasn’t been able to display to the public.

Among the planned exhibits for the new building are stories and items that highlight French Catholic influence on the town, including granite pillars that were salvaged from the former Notre Dame church on Prospect Street that was destroyed by fire in 1966.

Another exhibit will focus on The Caledonian Record, which began in 1837 in the town. Part of that exhibit will include an old-fashioned letterpress the newspaper has and will gift to the center for display. Additional plans in the new space call for an exhibit that communicates the town’s industrial beginning at Arnold Falls on the Passumpsic River, an exhibit highlighting the early sheep industry, the impact of the railroad and blacksmithing.

The work at the Danville Train Station will transform the building into a key location along the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. In Barnet, the students are involved in the restoration of the historic Town Hall to establish it as the new municipal building. Roberts was a long-time Barnet Select Board member.

He said he’s glad to have his students get involved in important community projects. He said he tells his students that the work they’re doing is going to last because these are community-based projects.

“These are three buildings that will forever be part of the community,” said Roberts. “They’ll be able to tell their grandkids they worked on these.”

The students’ involvement also benefits the people doing the projects from a cost perspective. There is no labor cost for the students to do the electrical work.

Roberts said between the three projects there will be a labor savings of at least $90,000.

Bob Desrochers, project manager of the exhibit hall and heritage center member, estimated the center is probably realizing a savings of $15,000 to $20,000 by using the Academy student crew.

And they do good work, he said.

“They’re a great bunch of kids,” said Desrochers. “Jeremy has done a good job.”

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