Homer High School junior Taylor Netti used a computer to guide a plasma cutter Tuesday, watching through tinted glasses as the laser cut the words “Homer Blue Pride” into a piece of sheet metal.
It’s one of many projects Netti, the only girl in her 23-student welding class at the McEvoy campus of the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Cortlandville, has enjoyed.
Now she has more room for projects because a $325,000 renovation doubled the size of the classroom. The expansion lets welding students work on bigger projects, and makes them safer, too, said instructor Kevin Auyer.
Where previously students had to pair up, the classroom now has 14 individual booths lining a new wing, and seven portable booths, he said.
Homer High School senior Dylan Stevens practices welding during a demonstration Tuesday in the newly renovated classroom at the BOCES McEvoy Center. Individual welding booths, like the one Stevens is using, are new to the classroom, which has doubled in size.
A ceremony Tuesday introduced the public and industry experts to the classroom. But students are already familiar with it — they helped create it.
They put together the plastic curtains that separate the booths from the room. Using the plasma cutter, they created the number signs above the booths and they made the room’s cabinets.
The students learn stick, tig and mig welding, as well as plasma cutting — all the essential basics, said Homer Iron Works owner Mike Park.
Park says his company, like others in the area, is looking to expand and it’s difficult to find trained welders. But he finds it encouraging that BOCES has expanded the classroom, perhaps a sign that more young people are interested in entering the trades.
Park has employed students from the BOCES program before.
“If they’ve got the basics, we can train them from there,” he said. “If they can stick weld, mig weld and tig weld and have the basics of plasma arts and plate cutting, and come out of all those processes and can be proficient at it, we can train them from there because there’s a lot to learn from there.”
Auyer said there is a need for students to enter welding because the average age of welders is late 50s. As they retire, new people are needed to fill their shoes, he said.
Netti said she is glad she’s exploring a trade since she has fun projects every day. She’s welded a bumper for her father’s truck, and she liked being part of the Homer Blue Pride sign, which will be in the school’s display case.
And she says she’s learning more than welding.
“It’s a lot more than welding, it’s people skills and teamwork,” Netti said. “It opens your eyes to a lot of things, like different viewpoints, if you’re doing a project, looking at something the way someone else sees it.”
Park said an entry-level welder can be paid $16 an hour but that can go up to about $30 an hour depending on the type of welding, and up to $60 an hour for prevailing-wage jobs.
It can even be done underwater. Netti plans to explore commercial diving and underwater welding through Texas Ocean Corp. when she graduates. “It’s gonna be very fun,” she said.