If all goes well, a year from now school district officials in Sitka will cut the ribbon on huge new vocational education building.

The Sitka School Board last night (Tue 1-7-14) approved spending $135,000 to begin design of an unusual project at the high school.

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What can you do with 8,000 square feet? Ask Randy Hughey, formerly Sitka’s high school wood shop teacher.

“A steel building, tall enough for us to build a small house on a trailer and take it out.”

Hughey has come out of retirement to oversee the construction of Sitka’s “Vocational Education Facility.” The city received $2.9-million in funding from the Department of Commerce for the structure in 2012. It’s hoped that Hughey can pull together all the threads to make the project happen in a year.

To jump-start things, Hughey told the school board that he and Sitka’s public works director, Michael Harmon, elected to seek bids from design-and-build contractors, rather than go through a more conventional process.

Hughey’s review committee selected the team McCool Carlson Green architects and CBC Construction. McCool Carlson Green was the creative force behind Pacific High; CBC was a local subcontractor for Sunland Development.

“The experience of this team is not as deep as some of the other experienced teams, but the structure that they provided was the most appealing for educational purposes. They gave us the best idea.”

Their idea is a large, useful building with four car lifts, a lot of garage doors, and a lot of room.

“There isn’t much fancy equipment in it. It’s just a big space with light, a modest amount of heat, and out of the weather so students can build a variety of things. The community is going to find this a good and useful space for so many things for a very long time. I think of all of the plays that we build sets for — you just need big spaces! There’s going to be a lot of good things happening in this building over the years.”

The structure will occupy space between the existing high school shops and the back gym — an area currently enclosed by chain link fence. Hughey says the building will primarily serve as work space. Although computer-aided-design and computer-controlled milling machines are playing a larger role in high school shop programs, Hughey says students still need to work with their hands.

“As educators, there’s this tension between having a computer run a torch to cut something out, versus the hand skill to do that. Because we cannot let go of that hand skill stuff yet all.”

Earlier in the meeting the school board recognized elementary school teacher Rebecca Himschoot, who had won a national teaching prize for Science. Hughey said Vocational teachers shared Himschoot’s goal of connecting with students.

“In the Career and Tech-Ed areas where kids get to build stuff, get the hands-on, engagement is easier to achieve. And if they can build real things, lasting things, things of value, things of beauty, things of usefulness — that engagement is all the higher.”

The school board voted unanimously to award the initial design to CBC Construction and McCool Carlson Green. Hughey anticipated that much of the construction could take place this summer and fall, and the building will open for classes by the beginning of the second semester next school year.