Waupun Area School District broke ground Tuesday for construction of its new 7,000 square foot Warrior Innovation Center.
The new stand-alone facility — to be located just a step outside the door of the junior/senior high school — will help students stay relevant in the community and the world, said Waupun School Board President Bill Bruins.
Recent trends in building projects, curriculum revamping and state funding for public schools indicate a heavy emphasis on technology education and hands-on training, with a seamless transition to the state's technical college system.
"It was obvious to all of us that our technology education department was woefully behind the times in a time when the business community is saying they need qualified workers," Bruins said.
The Innovation Center, scheduled to be up and running by next fall, features production areas for fabrication, a large shop room, mobile welding, a tool crib, printing and engraving space, storage areas and offices.
It will also house Warrior Fabrication — a student-run business which delivers products and services to individuals and businesses across the region.
The center's price tag of $750,000 is included in building projects and renovations funded through a $36 million referendum approved by school district voters in November 2017.
The current technology education department contains a series of separate rooms and, when all was said and done, it would have cost more to remodel than to build a separate facility, said Superintendent Tonya Olson said.
The school district was also awarded a Wisconsin Fab Lab Grant during Tuesday's celebration, toward the development of fabrication laboratories.
Presenters from the state were Katy Sinnott, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation vice president of international development; B.J. Dernbach, assistant deputy secretary with the Department of Workforce Development; Colleen McCabe, provost and vice president of Wisconsin's Technical College System; State Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) and Assembly Rep. Mike Schraa (R-Oshkosh).
Waupun received $25,000 to fund a fab lab — a high-tech workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components. These include 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters. The program awarded $500,000 in grants to 22 school districts and requires matching funds from the districts.
Community cooperation will be built upon what kinds of skills local employers want, Olson said.
"We are giving our students experience in critical thinking and the development of products, and our courses are being aligned with tech school offering," she said. "It's all about career readiness."
Referendum money is also funding a 15.8 acre athletic field complex, and upgrades at all schools. Highlights include a new gym at Meadow View Primary, library/media center and greenhouse at SAGES, the charter school; and a greenhouse at the high school.
Taxes in the school district did not increase, Olson said, due to the retirement of some long-term debt.
Eppstein Uhen Architects and CG Schmidt Construction are the district's partners in the referendum projects. Olsen said to date, more than 50 percent of the work has been awarded to local businesses or firms employing people who live in the district.