EL welcomes trade school

New Castle School of Trades President Rex Spaulding addresses the crowd at Friday’s grand opening of the East Liverpool Campus, which was five years in the making. Classes for an estimated 250 students will start in the new year. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

EAST LIVERPOOL–Friday’s grand opening of the New Castle School of Trades was part trip down memory lane and part look forward for the hundreds who gathered at the intersection of East Fifth and Washington streets.

The crowds were not unlike those that used to fill the sidewalks and aisles of Ogilvie’s Department Store and Woolworth’s 5&10 before those emblems of another time closed and left cavernous vacancies in downtown East Liverpool.

But those halls will soon be full again–this time with students looking to learn a skilled trade and launch into an uncertain work world.

On a breezy, drizzly Friday afternoon, the public got its first look at the $7.9 million project that renovated the two retail buildings and turned them into the latest addition to East Liverpool’s education corridor.

“Open your eyes,” Mayor Ryan Stovall said, “and you shall see progress and hope in this town that hasn’t been seen in years.”

As they filed through, visitors were overheard to say, “I cannot believe my eyes, honest to God,” “Isn’t this amazing?” “This is beautiful,” and “What a transformation.”

The adaptive reuse project, which began almost five years ago, gives the New Castle School of Trades 30,000 square feet in which to train high school graduates in a variety of trades–combination welding, electrical and industrial maintenance, refrigeration and climate control, and commercial truck driving.

The East Liverpool Campus will be able to handle 250 students, offering them not only training but also job placement assistance. Those who receive diplomas will have the option to continue their education at the main campus in New Castle, Pa.

The school is in the process of filling 20-25 faculty positions and will begin its first academic quarter in January or February. “We start a class every 10 weeks,” said Director Jim Buttermore, noting that the school draws its enrollment from within a 50-mile radius.

Buttermore said NCST was impressed with East Liverpool and the possibility for expansion into an area where he and President Rex Spaulding have family roots.

“It was the passion of the community and the support for us to be here. We saw a real market here,” he said.

The first contact came with a phone call from East Liverpool architect Scott Shepherd, Stovall said. The East Liverpool Community Partnership for Revitalization shepherded the project and saw it through to fruition, with help from the Columbiana County Port Authority, East Liverpool City Schools, the state of Ohio and other partners, he said.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish together. It truly was a community effort,” said Adam Hughes of Utah-based consulting firm Better City LLC. “I believe God’s hand was involved in this project–in bringing together people with the right skill sets.”

When NCST officials first came to East Liverpool, they looked at four buildings and chose the one in the worst shape, Buttermore said.

“We believe it was the right building for us,” he said.

The East Liverpool Campus covers two floors, with classrooms, offices and labs on the first floor and classrooms and labs on the second floor. The Weld Shop occupies the old Woolworth’s space.

“We have many challenges ahead of us. … We cannot do this alone,” Spaulding said prior to Friday’s ribbon cutting. “I’m asking each and every one of us here today for your support and assistance in making the school a premier institution. Please help us by recommending the school to those who could benefit from the training. Encourage those that may be struggling while attending class. Provide us feedback on our programs and how we can become better. Hire our graduates and, finally, pray for our school.”